Teens are sick. 1. Prisons called home or school … a punishment for being teens

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in a daily newspaper <The Kyunghyang Shinmun> on Dec. 14, 2011, when they started a special series ‘Teens are sick’ covering the reality of Korean teens now. The title of the series ‘Teens are sick’ speaks for itself and this article explains a lot of what’s going on with Korean teens now. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of original article or with <The Kyunghyang Shinmun> and this post will be scrapped at their request immediately. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom. The names of people or research reports appear in this post are unauthoritative translations of corresponding Koreans and, as such, can be different from their authentic English names and titles.

Teens are sick. 1. Prisons for control and surveillance called home and school … a punishment for being teens

Reported by Special Coverage Team 특별취재팀

A middle school 2nd grader, while killing himself turning his back to his parents and friends troubled by school grades, asked his parents to bury his iPod with him. The only companion of his 14-year-long life was neither his parents nor his friends; it was a small electronics gadget that had soothed his broken mind and loneliness.

One high school student killed his mother for forcing him to get good grades. A first grader high school girl student posted a story of her troubles on an internet counselling cafe that has about 22,000 young students as members. “All seem to look down on me. I soothe myself and sympathize myself alone looking at my reflections on the mirror while weeping, murmuring to myself, ‘What is wrong with you? You look sad’. Since I am a student, I have to accomplish my dreams, I will focus on my study but, even if I study hard in my high school days, I will be like this as well even if I go out to the society … I simply want to reset my life altogether.” Many youngsters dropped tears empathizing her feelings. Tens of stories come up to the cafe every day. Crying ‘it is too much for me’, all youngsters pour out their troubles.

The introduction of ‘Youth Charter’ government proclaimed reads like this. ‘Youths are the owners of their lives and have rights to be respected as human beings. Families, schools, societies, and the country should guarantee humane lives to youths and promote conditions and environments where youths can cherish their happiness and live as such.’


▲(Left) In last 12th evening, a middle school student goes back home after finishing his classes at priviate educational institutes along an alley of residential area of Mok-dong, Seoul. Jeong Ji-yoon 정지윤 기자 color@kyunghyang.com ▲(Right) Illustration | Kim Sang-min 김상민 기자

But, the reality is different. Even grown-ups groan with burdens they find themselves challenging to cope with. Being forced to study unimaginable quantity and quality of materials, youths live under extreme duress grown-ups compelled them as if everyday is like a critical moment that determines their whole lives afterwards. Their living spaces, homes and schools, already turned into prisons where water-tight surveillance and control have been exercised. Locked in such invisible prisons, youths are discouraged, hurt, and wandering around not knowning how to get away from them. Teens are sick.

Various statistics on youths viscerally reveal the reality that teens cannot help but to get sick.

7 out of 10 youths of ages 15 ~ 19 are under stress from all over the home and school life (National Statistics Office (NSO) ‘2011 Statistics of Youths’). Youths of good grades as well as poor grades are under stress of grades. According to ‘2010 Fact Finding Investigation of Human Rights of Korean Children and Youths’ by Korea Institute of Youth Policy (KIYP), 7 out of 10 middle & high school students are ‘concerned about school grades and anxious about the materials they have to study’. 53.4% of youths of ages 15~19 tried to commit suicides or felt compulsion to do that. The proportion of youths who was concerned of study and grades leaped from 48.9% in 2002 to 55.3% in 2010 (NSO ‘2011 Statistics of Youths’).

The report of KIYP released in last Feb., “International Comparative Investigation of Youths’ Health Condition in 4 Countries” shows that Korean youths grade stress is of lethal level. According to the report, Korea marked top (87.8%) in the ‘I was stressed within the latest 1 year’ question; Japan (82.4%), USA (81.6%), China (69.7%) followed. Top reason of the stress was the school grade. 72.6% of Korean youths picked ‘study-related problem’ as the reason of stress. Other countries fell way short of Korean level; China 59.2%, USA 54.2%, and Japan 44.7%.

In an online study ‘Youths Health Online Investigation’ Korean Centre for Disease Control (KCDC) conducted during the last Sep. ~ Oct. period over 75,643 middle and high school students, it was revealed that the sleep time of Korean youths fell way short of the recommended level. Weekly average sleep time for general high school students was just 5.5 hours a day. For middle school students, it was 7.1 hours a day. They fell way short of the 8.5 ~ 9.25 hours a day sleep time for youths recommended by US National Sleep Foundation. Korean students have to attend private educational institutes when they are supposed to sleep.

Youths are pushed against the tip of a cliff. According to ‘2011 Statistics of Youths’ by NOS, suicide was the top reason of death for youths of ages 15 ~ 24. The number of youths committing suicides per 100,000 population leaped from 13.5 in 2008 to 15.3 in 2009.

Parents and teachers who are supposed to ‘foster the environment to guarantee humane and happy lives for youths’ did no role in alleviating the pains of teens. 40.2% of youths said ‘I will talk to my friend about my problems’. 13.9% said they didn’t have anyone to talk to. Mere 3% of youths said ‘I talk to my father about my problems.’ (KIYP ‘2010 Fact Finding Investigation of Human Rights of Korean Children and Youths’).

Youths who cannot connect with their parents gradually shun their parents. That’s how they get attached to their peers and to the same jumpers and shoes not to get isolated from their peer groups; they sometimes do weird things that grown-ups cannot understand.

Being teens in Korea means you started a very risky adventure. That’s all the more so because grown-ups think the pain teens experience like a rite of passage all have to go through before they enter colleges.

If we want them to grow healthy and want the future of Korean society to be healthy, we should not avoid the pain teens bear on their shoulders. For that, our society should start by facing teen pains honestily and looking at their hurts with their eyes not with its own eyes. And that’s why Kyunghyang Shinmun starts the special series, ‘Teens are sick’.

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