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Search On For Boy Abandoned by Parents in Japan

Rescuers on horseback search for a 7-year-old boy who is missing in a Japanese forest in northern Japan. He has been missing since late Saturday afternoon after his parents reportedly made him get out of the car as punishment. (Ichinoshin Matsuhashi/Kyodo News via AP
Japan Missing Child
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A Japanese boy remains missing four days after his parents abandoned him as a punishment, police said.

Japan’s military joined the search Wednesday for a 7-year-old boy missing in a forest in northern Japan.

But on Wednesday night, Yamato Tanooka still had not been found. About 275 soldiers, police and volunteers searched for him Wednesday.

The boy has been missing since Saturday, when his parents made him get out of their car to punish him for throwing rocks at cars and people, according to police.

Kyodo News Service said police are looking into whether the parents should be charged with child abandonment. Child psychiatrists said even a threat of leaving a child behind is child abuse because of the stress it creates.

Police said the boy’s father, Takayuki Tanooka, returned to the area to look for his son a few minutes later, but could not find him.

The child was left on a road by woods that are home to bears. He had no food or water, and there has been heavy rain. Temperatures at night have been in the mid-40s, according to news reports from Japan.

Tanooka first told police his son disappeared while the family was picking vegetables. He later said that he and his wife had punished their son for bad behavior.

Father is Embarrassed

Tanooka told news media he was embarrassed for leaving his child on the road – for what he said was supposed to be for a few minutes.

“I regret what I did to my child,” he said.

The search for the 7-year-old boy was a major news story in Japan, with TV networks doing many live updates. Many people went on Twitter to criticize the parents.

“What kind of parents would abandon a child in bear country?” wrote Helene Hamilton. “They should be charged -- especially if he is hurt or killed.”

Judith Cohen is a doctor and professor of psychiatry at Drexel University College of Medicine in Pennsylvania. She said parents are expected to give children a “basic sense of security and safety.”

“When parents make that conditional on a child’s good behavior, children lose their sense of safety and security, which is really a core need for children to grow up,” Cohen said.

Janet Rosenzweig, vice president for research at Prevent Child Abuse America, understands parents get uneasy when children do not behave.

“But I can’t think of anything worse than abandoning a child in a strange and unknown place,” Rosenzweig said. She said children suffer emotionally when they are abandoned, or even warned that their parents might leave them behind.

But the damage is more than emotional, she said. “With modern science, we know that traumatic stress washes a kid’s brain and blocks intellectual growth,” Rosenzweig said.

Cohen said the best way to discipline a child is to set limits and warn in advance about punishment for pushing limits. Let children know that TV or computer use will be removed if they do not behave.

If parents want a child to leave a fun activity, such as swimming, they might warn that time in that activity is running out.

“For young children, it might be as simple as saying, ‘We have to leave in the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ ” Cohen said.

I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

abandon -- v. to leave someone behind

stressn. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life

core adj. the central part of something

embarrass – v. to make (someone) feel confused and foolish in front of other people

traumaticadj. causing someone to become very upset in a way that can lead to serious mental and emotional problems

intellectualadj. relating to the ability to think in a logical way

disciplinen. control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior