[NOTEBOOK]Stinking from the head downIt is saddening ― not just worrisome or a matter of some concern ― that juvenile delinquency is becoming a serious problem these days. An elementary student confined three younger children for eight hours in a boiler room where the temperature was over 40 degrees centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Middle school students filmed a video of their classmate while molesting him and distributed it on the Internet. It is terrible to think that these wrongdoings were committed by children, whom we want to see growing up innocent and healthy. Why do these things often take place now? Should they be attributed to the so-called “spoiled children of today,” born after absolute poverty disappeared in our country?
The primary responsibility for juvenile delinquency lies with adults. Children do not grow in a social vacuum. If children have problems, it means that society has problems. More specifically, it means that the problems of the adults who raise them are manifested in the form of children’s problems. Those who have hope in the future have the strength to endure reality, however hard it may be, and to resist temptations that arise from hard times and problems. In a society where educational, regional, and extended family ties are strong, it is difficult for those without those connections to have hope. Leaving aside regional and blood ties, our children form educational ties that are ruinous for the country during their adolescence. Children who are poor at learning and who thus have little possibility of entering the so-called “first-rate” universities are stigmatized at an early age. Those who have little chance to enter college at all are even further stigmatized for a “lack of promise.” People without excellent academic backgrounds have little chance to advance in Korea.
Harmful environments built by senseless adults have taken the place of playgrounds for children. In movies, gangsters are beautified and women are dramatized as sexual entertainers. Those films are considered masterpieces. One group tried to make money by producing a pornographic movie based on the horrors of comfort women under Japanese rule. Many pornographic Web sites are accessible as soon as we get access to the Internet. Regardless of the Youth Protection Act, teenagers can easily buy alcohol and cigarettes. This is the environment provided for children to play in. How many children could escape these temptations?
What is even more dangerous than this harmful environment is the image of adults reflected in youth. To our youth, successful adults are those who enjoy pleasure in luxurious, expensive entertainment places. Those who can enjoy all kinds of dirty pleasure in a room salon ― where entertaining for a night with alcohol costs millions of won ― are adults who are successful because of their educational, regional and family ties, and who think this pleasure is the privilege of the successful.
The major cause of juvenile delinquency, including school violence, is an effort by youth to get money not for school but for entertainment. Why do children try to get what they want by resorting to violence? That is learned from adults too. Violence will get them what they want, and even more dreadful than visible or physical violence is invisible, institutional violence. Our society is too accustomed to institutional violence. Generals seized power overnight and used all kinds of violence to maintain their power, while rich people inflicted violence with money. The connection between politics and business, a duet of power and money, is the origin of institutional violence in our country and has made our society a violent one.
The dire reality is that this intolerable violence is rationalized or ignored. At most, those involved have only to endure a slight insult. Those who committed violence at the core of power or around it have survived shifts in power and repeated the same kind of violence.
Children alienated from school see a harmful, adult-created environment, and they resort to physical violence to pay for entertainment. Why is our society so sensitive to children’s violence while it is so tolerant of the institutional violence of adults? More honestly speaking, deep in our hearts, are we truly concerned about our adolescents?
It is said that a fish always begins to stink from the head downward. Adults should be alert before blaming their children. As long as the institutional violence of adults does not disappear, children’s violence will not disappear either. If we are genuinely worried about our children, we should find measures in ourselves.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Joon-ho