BABY KANGAROOS are raised in their mother’s pouch until they become old enough to live on their own. Now, the same phenomenon is being sighted among young people in Korea. Most notably, high school students have the propensity to be under their parents’ absolute control. Hence, they swell with anticipation for the freedom they would be given after being accepted to universities. However, their expectations shatter as they become college students, and realize that there is still little freedom granted to them. In fact, this has become a social issue, with more and more parents intervening in their children’s lives even after they have become adults, and students refusing to leave their parents’ protection. Then what could be the factors inducing such phenomenon, and how could it be solved?
The status quo
At the center of this issue, there are two major keywords; “helicopter parents” and “kangaroo children.” The former refers to those who have substantial influence over their children in numerous areas, including education or employment. Helicopter parents’ intervention in their children’s lives continues even after they go to or graduate from college. Kim Hak-chul, a professor of Yonsei University had once shared his personal experience at a TV show called “15 minutes to change the world,” which addressed the helicopter parents issue; “A parent of one of my students had called me, telling me that his son was too sick to attend my upcoming class. Upon hearing this, I thought to myself, are not university students old enough to take care of their own matters by themselves? How long do their parents intend to treat them like infants?” Likewise, in current Korean society, even university students who are considered adults are not free from their parents’ interference.
On the other hand, there are those who show no effort to become self-dependent, and continue to rely on their parents even after they have become grown-ups. They are referred to as “kangaroo children,” which is a newly coined word in 2004. Kangaroo children tend to take their parents’ supports for granted, as a survey conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality lucidly shows. This survey was done on a group of teenagers, and the result showed that more than 80% of respondents believed they had the right to be given financial support in terms of university tuition fees, wedding and housing expenses from their parents. Accordingly, the survey result sheds light on the fact that many adolescents nowadays may have the capacity to become kangaroo children.
The prevalence of both helicopter parents and kangaroo children can be problematic for the Korean society. To begin with, kangaroo children lack the will to get a job, owing to the atmosphere in which they were raised. According to a dissertation named “Helicopter Parents and Kangaroo Children,” written by Jin Eun-young, most kangaroo children were given formulaic and standardized education at a young age. Hence, their way of thinking tends to be very limited, making it difficult for them to apply their learning in solving diverse problems. Such inability to handle matters for themselves eventually compel kangaroo children to become dependent on their parents, which render them feel less obliged to find a job and become self-dependent.
Moreover, when these kangaroo children are employed, they are likely to have much difficulty adapting to their work environment, as they lack the ability to solve problems by themselves. They are referred to as a “chlaryman,” which is a combination of “child” and “salary-man.” At the workplace, chlarymen lack the capacity to express their ideas about the internal affairs of the company on their own; instead, their parents deliver the message for their “children.” According to Han-guk-il-bo, there had been a case when a mother of an employee personally contacted the company and complained about the company’s decision of transferring her son to the branch in Middle East. This instance vividly shows that the kangaroo children might have difficulties in bilateral communication between them and their superiors.
In addition, having kangaroo children or helicopter parents can be very stressful for families in general. Children with helicopter parents are apt to be under the huge influence of their parents, thus receiving a lot of stress from it. For instance, a sophomore who asked to be anonymous claimed that his mother has full control of his school life, as she had even timetabled his course schedule for him. His ideas were mostly ignored in the course enrollment process, and thus his self-esteem was greatly lowered, which in turn induced severe depression. Considering all the problems kangaroo children and helicopter parents can bring, it is apparent that their actions are unhelpful for the family members.
The reasons behind the scene
Then what gave rise to kangaroo children and helicopter parents? The factors that had an impact on their appearance could be divided into two different categories: educational and social. To first look at the educational factors, Korean parents teach their children in a way that hinders them from growing self-reliance. A TV program called “Su-yo-gi-hwek,” broadcasted in KBS1 had once shown a video clip of a mother teaching her child how to draw. Throughout the clip, she paid close attention to the child’s actions, and whenever he showed signs of frustration, the mother drew the picture for him, instead of letting him finish it by himself. Likewise, many Korean parents prefer to do their children’s work for them, which obstruct their children from developing genuine problem-solving skills. Children become more and more dependent as they age, and eventually turn into kangaroo children.
Moreover, parents nowadays perceive their children as means to express their superiority over others in terms of nurture, and hence try to control most of their children’s activities. Hong Won-pyo (Prof., Dept. of Education) said, “Parents these days are obsessed with their children’s education, as their primary goal is to display their children’s success and have an advantage over other rivaling parents. As a result, they are driven to actively engage in their children’s learning and take control of their lives.” Parents’ such behaviors act as restraints for children, hindering them from living free and independent lives. As a result, these students are forced to be more reliant on their parents, ultimately leading to the emergence of kangaroo children. In a nutshell, parents’ immoderate craving for their children’s success and the resulting sense of superiority they get has led them to excessively engage in their children’s education, which in turn created the contemporary kangaroo children.
There are several social factors as well that induced the appearance of kangaroo children and helicopter parents. To begin with, the spread of nuclear families played a crucial role in fostering them. Along with Korea’s unprecedented economic progress during the late 1900s, individualism pervaded the country, and extended families began to split into many nuclear families, which usually consist of two parents and one or two children. The relatively small number allowed parents to put more love and care on their children, leading to the emergence of helicopter parents.
The overall increase of people’s wealth and the betterment of their educational background also contributed to the rise of kangaroo children and helicopter parents. According to Dong-a il-bo, Guak Geum-ju, a professor of Seoul National University had claimed that Korea’s economic prosperity induced significant increase in the number of helicopter parents. As Koreans in general became more affluent, they invested a lot of money and time on their children, and got obsessed with their success. This turned them into helicopter parents, hovering over their children and providing them with whatever they need to succeed.
Last but not least, the employment crisis of youths aggravated the situation, boosting the number of kangaroo children among households. Korean job market is currently full of people with decent educational backgrounds, and this oversupply of educated workers actually made it difficult for them to get jobs. Consequently, those who lose in the competition and fail to get a job rely on their parents for financial support, which ultimately furthers the prevalence of kangaroo children in the modern world.
How can it be solved?
In order to fundamentally solve the dilemma, both parents and children should endeavor to play their desirable roles. First of all, parents should focus more on supporting their children, not on making decisions for them. It is imperative that they keep their distance from children when educating them, and not give them any direct support. This would enable children to actively participate in shaping their future path, and provide them with the opportunity to establish a more self-dependent lifestyle. “It is desirable for parents to be patient with their children and continuously encourage them to solve problems through their own efforts. Furthermore, they should try to accept and embrace their children’s talents, for this would allow them to find the field in which they are truly talented,” said Kang Min-ju (Prof., Dept. of Child & Family Studies).
Children also have their role; they should not take their parents’ patronage for granted, but ought to constantly endeavor to be self-reliant and prepare themselves for the upcoming departure. Korean youths nowadays are given substantial amount of financial support from their parents, as the survey conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality has shown. Although it is natural for people to depend on their parents in times of economic difficulty, they should not take it for granted and think they can receive unconditional support whenever needed. Instead, people should be grateful for the aid given to them, and continuously strive to become self-sufficient, since their parents cannot afford to take care of them forever.
Still, the issue of kangaroo children and helicopter parents cannot be resolved solely with individual efforts; the society as a whole should also partake in solving the problem. The government could open parenting classes for helicopter parents to reeducate them of the desirable ways to teach and raise their children. Kang indicated that the vicious cycle of kangaroo children and helicopter parents would continue to exist, unless parents learn to truly empathize with the idea that children are not their private possessions, but are separate individuals with their own lives to live. If such idea becomes embedded into parents’ minds through active social engagement, the chain would be broken and helicopter parents would no longer prevail to raise more kangaroo children.
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For university students who would lead independent lives after graduation, self-dependence is crucial. Nevertheless, despite being adults, many of them are still under their parents’ control. Yet, students are not the only ones to be blamed for their inability to be self-dependent. Parents should also encourage their children to think and act for themselves, rather than become helicopter parents and intervene in every single matter. Hence, proper cooperation between the two would be the driving force of their well-being, with students living more autonomously and their parents being liberated from the burden of excessive caring for their children.