[OUTLOOK]Youthful spenders need educatingThe level of bad credit among youth in society has reached dangerous heights, leaving concerns for future guidance of young people. More than one-fifth of some 2.5 million credit delinquents are in their 20s and more than 10,000 of these delinquents are under 21. Some teenagers own three to four credit cards. There is indeed a staggering amount of overconsumption going on among middle and high school students, usually from wealthy families, who even form clubs for the purpose of buying brand-name products together. Teenagers with no income are being exposed to a distorted consumer culture. Their lack of ability to control their spending and the overconsumption they see around them makes them form wrong values. When young people buy up 55,000 won ($46) Louis Vuitton scrun-chies, or hair bands, until a shop runs out of stock in record time, you know there is definitely something wrong with the consumer patterns of these teenage mutant scrunchie users.
Teenagers are in the forming phase of their basic life patterns and cultural grooming, and this teenage phase eventually leads to the basic life patterns in the adult phase. In other words, the basic pattern of life a teenager acquires -- time control skills, allowance control skills, consumption control skills and just basic self-control -- will not be easily adaptable when he becomes an adult. All the decadence, consumption, preference for brand-name products, money-wasting and undesirable hobbies of youth will accompany a youth well into his mature years. Among countries with similar standards of living, Korea is one of the only places that has teenagers with bad credit, and surely the only place that has middle schoolers with bad credit. Children and old youths in Europe are strictly taught self-control and time management skills from early on in every facet of life. We, on the other hand, have children and teens who seem to have gotten particularly out of hand. Why our youth? The answer lies in some of the socio-structural problems that our country has.
First, we have overconsuming parents in upper classes. The over-investing parents and their consumer attitude of buying only brand names have rubbed off on their offspring. Second, instead of nurturing pragmatism and polishing the person inside, the very wrong attitude of putting value on what’s outside and a tendency to show off has mushroomed among teenagers. Third, all sorts of businesses are coming after the teenagers and encouraging their teenage overconsumption urges. Credit card companies engage in life-or-death competition to attract more underage youths and to deal out cards to teenagers with no ability to pays on those cards as if it’s a poker game. Unless these problems causing bad credit among teenagers get solved, teenage problems in Korea will never get solved.
Here are a few suggestions on how to start solving the problem. Basically, we need to install some sociality in these teenagers in order to form reciprocal checks and balances that will form a healthier consumer culture. Second, a systematic and step-by-step educational program on economics and credit should be introduced to teach the teenager the right way to use their credit cards and form good consumer habits. Third, parents should teach their children by becoming examples themselves, like being more frugal with money they spend and keeping careful books. Fourth, regulations must be drilled into parents when their children under 18 apply for a credit card. Fifth, an economics education should be included in training sessions that middle and high school teachers go through, and be included in all schools’ regular education programs. Sixth, teach the teenagers the importance of money and how to use it right. Seventh, we desperately need to develop and distribute teaching materials on the subject to prevent more underage bad credit loaners. Eighth, introduce an allowance credit card system from the time a child is in elementary school. Place your children’s allowances in their bank accounts and make a deal with them that they can only use the card within the limit of the allowance that you give them.
A proper pattern of consumer life is important not only for the maintenance of our ability to control money and consumer behavior, but because it is in a sense connected to our ability to control ourselves in general. Remembering the German youth counselor’s comment that there is no such thing as over-consumption by the young in Germany, parents, educators and all of society should install some self-control skills in young people.
* The writer is the director of the Korea Institute for Youth Development.
by Kwon Yi-chong