Reality bites

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 June, 2004, 12:00am

After two weeks of learning the shocking details of how an 11-year-old girl slashed a friend's neck in school, and let her bleed to death, most Japanese are still at a loss to understand why it happened.

Most of all, they are shocked to discover just how deeply young children like the girl are hooked on cyberspace. Many seem to live a virtual life, in a world unknown to the adults around them.

The young girl's friends have told investigators that she chatted regularly on the internet, and had set up her own homepage on which she had written a story based on violent movies and books, such as Battle Royale, where children are forced to kill each other until only one is left. She admitted to investigators that she became upset at the victim's comment on a cyber bulletin board, which read: 'You are a pretentious cutesy poo.' The girl was, according to the police, already mad at her friend after she made remarks in the real world about her weight.

Investigators now think that her internet experiences had a critical impact on the way her mind worked. A number of psychiatrists agree. And she is not the only young girl in Japan to use the internet in this way. Japan's national Parent-Teachers' Council, which surveyed 12,000 schoolchildren - including 3,000 elementary-school pupils - and their parents, found that many let children use the internet unsupervised. More than 68 per cent of the 3,000 elementary-school children said they had used the internet, with 48 per cent of parents saying they let their children freely access the net. Only 4 per cent had installed software to block access to certain sites.

Like thousands of other children, the girl in Sasebo city on southern Kyushu island had created her own website with the easy-to-use software now available. She did well at school and behaved normally, according to teachers. But her classmates claimed that she had abused her peers with strong language and had even attacked them.

Some psychologists claim that children in their emotionally volatile pre-teen and teenage years are unable to sufficiently control their emotions in an online environment, removed from the checks and balances of the real world. Sometimes, they say, these extreme moods can spill over into reality.

Investigators say that the girl, who is too young to be tried by a criminal court, has admitted to the crime. She remains in the custody of family court officials and will undergo a psychiatric examination before a decision is taken on whether to place her in a young offenders' institution.

There has been plenty of moral preaching on the issue, but more importantly, parents need to enter the realms of cyberspace and learn more about their children's virtual lives.