Netflix’s ‘Old Enough!’ Highlights Cultural Differences in Parenting Toddlers, Sparks Debate on Child Safety

Would you let your young children run errands all by themselves?

That’s the premise of “Old Enough!” a popular Japanese reality show now available to watch in the U.S. on Netflix.

The show features toddlers running around town to accomplish errands without their parents.

“Hajimete no otsukai,” which translates to “First Errand,” was inspired by a 1977 children’s book, “Miki’s First Errand,” the story of a 5-year-old girl sent out by her mother to buy milk.

The show has run on Japanese television for more than 30 years and in some recent instances, has featured parents who were on the show as children themselves.

In episodes made available to U.S. Netflix subscribers, a 2-year-old is seen going on a 23-minute walk to buy food and flowers. In another instance, a 3-year-old boy retrieved his dad’s jacket from home, which was a bus ride away.

Cameras were rolling as a 4-year-old girl, appearing scared at first to leave home alone, makes her way to a fish market with just a purse and shopping bag to hold onto.

The show’s debut in the U.S. has led to discussions around parenting styles and the concept of independence while prioritizing safety.

“There definitely is that ‘wow’ factor,” author and parenting expert Lyss Stern told Inside Edition. “Here in the U.S., we definitely do not give our children that kind of independence and you could really see through the show, that, this is their way of life.”

Instilling self-sufficiency in children is important in Japanese culture, and the value has informed many aspects of day-to-day life in the country, Toshiyuki Shiomi, a child development expert and professor emeritus at Shiraume Gakuen University in Tokyo, told The New York Times. Children in Japanese schools often clean classrooms, Shiomi said.

And in many cases, that cultural value is complemented by country’s infrastructure, which was designed with children in mind, Hironori Kato, a professor of transportation planning at the University of Tokyo, told Slate.

Speed limits are low. Neighborhood blocks are small and include many intersections, often preventing drivers from speeding. Streets are designed so that pedestrians, cyclists and motorists share the road. “Roads and street networks are designed for kids to walk in a safe manner,” Kato said.

The children in “Old Enough!” aren’t actually alone, as they’re followed by a camera crew and producer, which some experts have noted parents watching should keep in mind.

“Children by definition do not have a sense of the risk in their world and as parents, part of our job is to protect and maintain their innocence,” Dr. Liz Westrupp, a child clinical psychologist at Deakin University, told Kidspot. “That’s a crucial part of childhood, for them to be completely free to relax and explore, and be unaware of the risks around them. That’s when important brain development happens.”

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