Parents in Korea appear to have become the ultimate helicopter parents, turning to waiting outside schools all day, harassing teachers, and using group chats on messaging apps to ensure that their child has the best possible opportunities at school.
An editorial published in the newspaper Hankyoreh on May 11 outlines some of the ways that parents are controlling and monitoring every moment of their children’s lives.
According to the writer, “Is it okay if I let them play?” is one of the most commonly asked questions on counseling forums for parents of schoolkids. Intense discussions are held on these forums about the issue of playing versus studying. For parents of younger kids, they deliberate about how many hours of the day they should let them play. For those with older kids, they debate if it’s okay to let kids play together without a supervising adult, and what workbooks they should be studying with.
There are stories of mothers who take their kids to school and then wait around nearby until they’re finished with classes. They sit on benches and watch as their kids do gym class outside, and wave at them if they catch their eye. Others at schools where parents aren’t allowed through the school gates wait outside the fence to hear their kids playing on the grounds.
In addition, kids have their assigned seats switched every month in elementary school, and teachers are flooded with complaints and requests from parents who want their kids to be placed next to the best possible student or put in the most advantageous spot.
Now that it’s legal for CCTV to be installed in kindergartens in Korea, the writer wonders if it’s possible that they’ll soon be allowed in classrooms. However, they say that the parents of schoolkids are even better than CCTV. Half of the mothers in each class spend their time nitpicking the events of the day in their kids’ classes in group chats. They ask each other questions about required materials, evaluations, and homework. They also learn about what made the teacher angry that day, or which student got up out of turn. Information is also shared about which bakery makes the bread that the teacher likes the most, or whether the teacher likes Americanos or lattes.
As the semester progresses, parents also begin to use private chats to talk about each other outside of the group chat. There’s a honeymoon period in the beginning of the semester in March, when the parents kindly share whatever they know to help each other out, but everything falls apart after that as competition between students grows fierce.
They also exchange information about upcoming tests with each other, but everything changes once the test results come out. Parents who are disappointed with their child’s marks take out their frustration in private chats by claiming that those who had said they don’t force their kids to study have actually been sending them to several extra classes.
According to the writer, the issue here is that parents are wracked with worry that if they make a single error – whether it’s choosing the wrong book or letting some critical opportunity slip by – they will ruin their child’s future. It all therefore comes back to the intense competitiveness of Korean society today, which has necessitated that parents go to extreme lengths to give their children the best possible chance at success.