Kids Can’t Get No Satisfaction

In The Social Fabric on March 28, 2011 at 10:51 pm

In groundbreaking, earth shattering news…..Korean kids are officially unhappy.  Now as someone who has had generous exposure to children ranging from the ages of 5 to 15, I am not shocked into a coma from these new findings.  I have read enough essays and diary entries to know that Sunday is most kids’ favourite day of the week because they can finally sleep.  But now it’s in the numbers.  From a surveyed 5,437 students ranging from 4th grade to 12th grade, Korean kids ranked lowest out of 26 OECD countries.  The survey showed that 53.9% of children are “satisfied with their lives” compared to an OECD average of 84.8%.

Maybe it’s something in the wording, or maybe it’s because I’m too distanced from my elementary school days (well….let’s say not too distanced) but I don’t recall ever assessing how ‘satisfied’ I was with my life.  When I was a child, that was the end of it.  I was a child, and being satisfied or not was irrelevant. My control over my own circumstances was limited to the scope of my backyard, and how far I could stray from home without feeling the invisible strings of guilt.  But satisfied or not, I had a light at the end of the tunnel.  Once school was over, life would begin and the sweet freedom to make all the wrong choices I wanted could be all mine.  So in this respect, I can understand the doomsday attitudes of Korean kids, who have to tough out not just 12 years of the most competitive schooling imaginable, but also 4-6 years of equally competitive university, and then the confidence crushingly competitive job market.  And all this preparation begins at the tender age of kindergarten.  No light, no tunnel.

In addition to being ‘dissatisfied’ with life, a whopping 18.3% of kids surveyed ‘feel alienated’.  That figure also happens to be the highest of the OECD countries.  Clearly Korea is topping the charts in all the wrong ways.  This number got me to thinking, what is it that makes so many kids feel alienated?  Of course without the funding, time and resources to take up my own research, I can only hazard a guess.  My speculation?  The standards which are set that all kids must live up to, despite inclination or ability.  Creativity is not lauded as respectable or more importantly a marketable talent, and as such is systematically squeezed dry from children that show they have it.  Kids that are ‘different’ and have different learning needs, are often pigeonholed as difficult, or troubled, and there are few alternative outlets.  From birth, high hopes are pinned on the success of the child and their professional direction.  During the first birthday party ceremony, the child is presented with a number of objects on a plate to choose from, which will symbolize their future.  These objects always include pencil, book, toothbrush, globe, and of course what every parent wishes they choose…..money.  Indoctrinated before speech.  One can only imagine the pressure on a child who either shows no talent for the conventional, or worse, has talents that would lead to a path of uncertainty.

Of course, it’s not just school that makes a child happy or not.  When asked the source of their distress, the rankings showed school work number one, followed by physical appearance and then problems with parents.  Boys in particular stress about their height, and girls stress about their weight.  As if it’s not already difficult enough to study 10-12 hours a day, kids also have to worry if they will be Michael Jordon or Angelina Jolie.  At least in one area Korea did not bottom out completely.  Although 17% of kids “feel lonely”, when compared to Japan the figure was at 29.8%.  Everyone has their own brand of problems.

Out of pure interest sake, the highest ranking country with the most ‘satisfied with their lives’ children is the Netherlands, with a staggering 94.2%.  It was attributed to the parenting style of the Dutch, going out of their way to please children, and the lower expectations of teachers.  I’ll be keeping this information out of my classes for the time being….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: