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Wasted youth, by the numbers

May 06,2017
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“You think it’s enough to buy toys and nice clothes?” goes the song, “Grown-ups Don’t Know.” The chorus of this children’s song is about how grown-ups don’t know what children want. The song is still popular among kids in Korea.

The lyrics almost exactly reflect the psychological state of Korean children in 2017. According to a joint study by Save the Children, an international organization promoting children’s rights, and Seoul National University’s Institute of Social Welfare, the sense of happiness Korean children feel was ranked 14th among the 16 countries surveyed. Korean children are not as happy as those in Algeria and South Africa. Two countries ranked lower than Korea were Ethiopia, ridden with extreme poverty, and Nepal, still recovering from a devastating earthquake.

Ironically, Korean children’ material needs, such as clothing, the internet and mobile phones, were met the most among the 16 countries. But they were struggling emotionally, having not enough time with family and friends (16th) and feeling that grown-ups do not listen to them (13th).

Another survey by Green Umbrella Child Fund on 8,600 elementary, middle and high school students also support the findings. There were 1,085 cases asking for reduced instructional time. What the students wanted in education was less time in cram schools (741 cases), less testing (716 cases) and more arts and sports (630 cases). A Unicef survey of 29 countries found Korean children suffer from the most academic stress.

However, grown-ups don’t seem to be willing to listen to children’s voices. Presidential candidates’ policies for children are mostly focused on offering material assistance for “adults with children,” such as increases in paid childcare leave, new children’s subsidies and expansion of after-school care. It is hard to find plans to alleviate academic stress that children are struggling with. If young people have votes, it would have been different.

We already know that some things are not right even without these studies and indicators. We can see it in the faces of elementary school kids going to after-school private academies. We also know that the competition is increasingly meaningless in the age of the fourth industrial revolution.

Yet, everyone is reluctant to stop the vicious cycle out of fear that their children may fall behind.

The lyrics of the children’s song are frequently shared in online communities with parents. The song reverberates among parents.
We may think that parenting is simply about providing food, clothing and shelter to kids. Many parents are aware of the problem. Let’s listen to our conscience and not become accomplices in emotional abuse.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 5, Page 25

*The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

HAN YOUNG-IK