IT IS ten o’clock. A road very much like that of Sinchon, the passage is lined with places for people to drink and have dinner. This is a road nearby Sinchon train station and Ewha Women’s University subway station. The fiercely red and blue neon signs light the dark road and a crowd of people passes by. The crowd are a group of excited teenagers who have been dancing their night away in the nearby dancing arena for teenagers, officially called “Tinple.”
Playground for teenagers - no alcohol, no cigarettes
The origins of Tinple are far from how they are seemingly manifested by the gregarious teenagers of today. The jargon Tinple is an abbreviation for “teenagers’ playground,” intended to provide a safe and healthy environment for teenagers to socialize, and has its roots in “colatech.” Colatechs were devised in the 1980’s to provide adults a place to dance and socialize in an alcohol-free arena – hence the name. With time, colatechs have evolved to serve a bigger pool of customers. With a new name of Tinple, they served to attract teenagers but seem to be the source of possible problems since.
It is not difficult to go out to the roads today and discover a clique of teenagers wandering around for a place to relieve their youthful stress. And these teenagers are often frowned upon by adults who consider their aimlessly sauntering behaviour as a social taboo. With not much of a place to “hang out,” their options are very limited. “It’s obvious really,” says Koh Hyung-seok (Student, Grade 8, Hwajung Middle School). “We usually go to PC rooms, or karaoke if we have enough pocket money.” Koh is a typical teenager, and many youngsters of today like him opt for PC rooms, karaoke, or the cinema to play. The recent appearances of Tinples aim at this blue ocean of teenage “playgrounds.” Since the onset of the 21st century, Tinple has become an interchangeable concept with “club for teenagers,” and has officially become a place where teenagers are free to dance and socialize in an alcohol and cigarette-free arena.
Just an imitation
Alcohol and cigarettes are not allowed inside Tinple. However, it is not difficult to find a group of teenagers smoking shamelessly on the roads just outside of Tinple. Apart from this ban, Tinples seem to be very similar to night clubs. After all, Tinples are imitations; they are mimicry of night clubs for adults. In fact, Tinples have a very similar structure to night clubs, and this fact seems to oddly contradict the original purpose of providing a “playground for teenagers.” For instance, while night clubs have waiters that help match-making, Tinples have a period of black-out time. This secretive and momentary period of darkness is intended to provide dancers an opportunity to find or kiss their partners. Like this, the Tinple culture is fundamentally based on night club cultures. And this fact puts Tinples on a precarious status – were they ever capable of serving their original purpose of providing teenagers with a safe and healthy social environment in the first place? Perhaps it is time for us to realize that Tinples are a social channel that passes down adult entertainment culture to the teenagers, behind the mask of “teenagers’ playground.”
Han Min-gu (Teacher, Goyangil High School) casts doubts precisely about this point. He believes a replica of adult night clubs cannot suit teenagers’ needs properly. “Places like Tinple blur the line that distinguishes what is meant for a teenager and an adult.” According to Han, it has now become easier for teenagers to mimic adults because teenagers of today are physically mature enough to act as one. But the same idea does not hold true mentally. “This means that physically mimicking adults becomes really easy, but can bring about dangerous consequences.” True to Han’s words, this unbalance between physical and mental maturity can reap unwanted results. This unbalance may be a partial reason why teenage drinking, smoking and pregnancy hit such high rates in the society today. Of course Tinples do not serve as a direct cause of such problems, but it is noteworthy that Tinples may be a place that encourages teenagers to fall into such delinquency.
A similar idea to this was echoed by Jeon Mi-rim (Student, Grade 12, American International School of Chennai) who claimed that Tinples provide an environment that enables teenagers to deviate freely from a healthy student life. “As the place of music and dance, Tinples are seen by the teenagers as a “cool” place to hang out.” Jeon believes that the root of the problem is that places like Tinple and associated habits are identified as trendy by teenagers. Such belief encourages teenagers to take up those habits. Premature drinking and smoking are already known problems in Korea. In fact, a study by Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed in 2012 that among 13 to 16-year-olds, 10.3% drink and 7.2% smoke. This means that almost every one out of ten 13 to 16-year-olds either drinks or smokes. It is again worth considering that Tinples mirror the current state of teenagers wanting to imitate adult behaviors, whatever such behavior may be – either to drink, to smoke, or to go clubbing.
Room for improvement
Creating a proper playground for teenagers is never going to be easy. Han claims that an alternative to Tinples should best serve the original purpose of providing teenagers with a healthy and safe place to socialize; he suggests that we build more easily accessible exercising grounds as a healthy alternative. “Teenagers of today tend to lack exercise because they are exposed to excessive media through televisions and smart phones. Plus, they stop taking physical education classes once they enter high school.” Han’s words are true. According to a study by The Seoul Institute, the percentage of teenagers in Korea that exercise at least 30 minutes, once a week is only 35.4%. The lack of exercise for teenagers does indeed have a room for improvement, but Jeon speaks a different voice. She believes creating a place for teenagers to exercise is a necessity, but cannot act as an alternative to Tinples. Instead, she thinks confronting the problem directly will be better – there is no need for replacements.
Jeon believes it is important for us to be aware what the precise problem of Tinples is. There is nothing wrong with the original purpose of Tinples, but how they indirectly provide environments for teenagers to drink and smoke is the problem. A place for teenagers to dance is not the problem; dancing actually helps teenagers to socialize, exercise, and relieve their stress. She surmises that the root of the problems of Tinples comes from them being an imitation of adult night clubs where drinking and smoking comes naturally. “To maintain the benefits of Tinple, the factor of dancing itself has to be left while eliminating all the negatives. I believe Tinples should take the form of dance studios not night clubs,” Jeon argues. “If it becomes a place where teenagers can explore their passion of dancing and music, then that would certainly become the best playground for them.”
Having said all, it is always more easily said than done. Teenagers will not change over a single day. A new invention or idea will take time to be absorbed by the society properly. “Teenagers of today are not as naïve as those 30 years ago. I am not sure how teenagers will take the change,” says Koh. “What I am sure of is that it will take time to make a change, no matter how great the idea is.”
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It is often said that imitation is the mother of invention. But this is true only when imitation eventually leads to an innovative invention. Imitation itself is not enough. It must act as a gateway to a newer and better creation. A replica of adult clubs, Tinples must step forward and develop themselves into something suitable for teenagers, because right now Tinples are not a place for youth.