Independence Days

What American Parents Can Learn From Japan’s ‘Old Enough’

On the show, parents charge preschoolers with running errands. They are surprisingly up to the task. Maybe it’s time to give my own kids more responsibilities!

In "Old Enough," a preschooler shops for her mom.
Netflix

Rabbit-hole alert: It’s easy and fun to get sucked into the under-10-minute episodes of “Old Enough,” now running on Netflix, which showcase Japanese preschoolers doing chores that go way beyond picking up their toys. The adventures are charming and inspiring. They’ll also make you ponder what your kids could likely handle on their own.

As much as we want to raise go-getters, I can’t image most Americans having their 2-year-old grocery-shop by themselves, as a toddler does in the first Netflix episode. Spoiler alert: He walks the kilometer there, buys all three things his mother needs, and cheerfully returns to rightfully earn praise. We all want that for our kids, but we also would not let them cross a busy street waving a little flag, as the little dude does in the episode.

As it turns out, though, these kids have the eyes of crew and camerapeople on them at all times. Producers carefully select families and have them prepare their tiny children for a first solo foray, so the kids are not out doing this stuff every day. In fact the real title of this decades-old show is Hajimete no Otsukai, which translates to “My First Errand.” An article in The Guardian explains how much preparation goes into each episode.

That was a relief for me, because for a minute, I wondered if in addition to using the KonMari method to declutter their home, Japanese parents have kids who can navigate a crowded fishmarket before kindergarten. As it turns out, the point of the show is to not show what is normal, but what is possible.

And that’s inspiring for this mom. I still tend to make my 16-year-old’s mac and cheese, even though I have taught him the steps many times. Last weekend my husband and I went to a party and left the box and tools (bowl, saucepot) out for him. I would like to tell you that, left alone, he made his own dinner. But no, he did Minecraft coding for hours, then put himself to bed without eating.

Still! This show will inspire me to keep trying to give him opportunities to do things for himself. Also, I am hoping “Old Enough” will have my friends outside of New York City no longer thinking I was crazy to let my 11-year-old take the subway to middle school. I swear that is a normal thing in Brooklyn. Hop on the subway at 7:30am or 3pm and you will see the school-bus-age subway crowd. I’ve also let both of my children navigate airports and get on a plane by themselves, as teenagers. These things are possible, even if, like the moms in the Netflix episodes, they almost make me weep with wonder and gratitude and terror balled up together.

The commentary that runs along with the footage of the Japanese children is pretty funny, but what I really love is that the kids are mic’d up, like the viral video of the tiny 3-year-old skier. Listening to them talk themselves through their errands melts my heart. And watching the equally brave parents gives me joy. In episode two, a mom working outdoors watches as her (hilariously naughty) 4-year-old marches off to let himself back into their home and make fresh-squeezed juice without help. “I’m so pleased,” she says, dabbing her eyes. Except, “he didn’t look back...which makes me kind of sad.”