Tag Archives: Teen suicide

How high?

27 Feb

Warning: Serious post

First of all apologies for the seriousness of this post,  but this week I’ve set one of my classes a homework topic about teen suicide, and it got me thinking about the issue that affects so many teens in Korea. Teen suicide rates in South Korea are amongst the highest in the world and it is the leading cause of death in 15-24 years olds in Korea. (www.voicesofyouth.org)

One of my classes where learning is still fun

Academic pressure

South Korean children are under the utmost pressure at all times to achieve academic excellence. This is without doubt the main factor in teen suicide. It’s hard to convey just how much pressure these students are under. They are at school almost 12 hours a day, if not at public school, then they are at one of the various private academies (hagwons) that their parents have saved their whole lives to send them to. Be it English, maths, science, piano or taekwondo – Korean children rarely get any free time to be children.

Just last month, a student at a near-by school, who was also a student of my friend, took his own life by jumping in front of a subway train.The school that I work at isn’t much better in terms of the extreme workload and pressure to ‘be the best’. Thankfully I’ve not known any kid at my school to take such drastic action either recently nor before my time. But the school’s high levels of expectations, being rushed through levels, and allowing the parents to decide what’s best for their children, doesn’t help matters, nor does it ease the pressure put on these kids.

The strive for a flawless appearance
The ul-jjang culture is another leading factor. I’ve never known any country to be as vain and to put as much emphasis on appearance as the South Koreans. These days, the media is to mainly blame for the unrealistic image of what is beautiful in many societies, Korea has taken it one step further and fully judges a person based on appearance. It is obsessed. The strive for a flawless appearance is constant. It’s common for many teenagers to  get cosmetic surgery as a reward for doing well at school. And if you’re not a size 6 then you can forget about it. It doesn’t help that women are second class citizens here and men have unrealistic expectations of how a woman should look and behave, but that’s another issue.

What needs to change
I’ve read that the government has taken some steps to try to reduce the suicide rate, even if it was only a half-assed attempt. But it’s the parents and the teachers who need to completely change their mindsets and instil a set of values and self-worth in these children and teach them to love themselves regardless of their academic ability and appearance, and that it’s ok to fail. Then hopefully one day soon, a South Korean child’s happiness will reside over academic success.