[Campus commentary]Childhood lost

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[Campus commentary]Childhood lost

The line separating childhood from adolescence seems to be getting finer or increasingly blurred these days.
From what I’ve noticed, what’s causing concern is one of two things: Young children are increasingly trying to look and act beyond their years and children at an early age are being forced into an intensive, high-stress schedule for the “betterment” of their future.
Both trends, taken too far, are equally disturbing.
I recently read a blog posting by a cosmetic surgeon stating that cosmetic surgery on the ears (purely for aesthetic effect) is possible, and absolutely O.K., as long as the child is over the age of 6. SIX!
All year long mothers wait anxiously in studios with their young daughters, who are wearing skin-tight tube tops and bright red lipstick, for a chance to showcase their children in advertisements, beauty pageants or anything that can get them attention or cash.
I am not putting all the blame on parents, nor am I saying all parents are greedy, pawning off their innocent children. It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of parents are loving caregivers who want only the best for their kids. I also concede, within limits, that appearing on broadcasts or in pageants can result in a positive experience for the child.
If anything is forced on a young child too early, however, any good is bound to be overshadowed by the losses incurred.
Children should be children! They should be allowed to wear comfortable clothes (except for a few times a year when it is absolutely unavoidable — during baptism, at piano recitals, being the flower girl at mom’s best friend’s wedding). They should be free to run around and get dirty, play outside in the fresh air every single day and have whimsical, carefree birthday parties where everyone ends up wearing more cake than eating it.
They should be able to start forming their own opinions, be profusely complimented for every hideous drawing they create and overall not be afraid to be kids — that is, after all, what they are. They should learn that they are beautiful exactly as they are; they should learn to enjoy helping out, not nagged to do chores around the house so they can save money to get their eyelids mangled.
They should learn that their parents will love them for being the goofy kids that they are, not that they need to get into the best hagwon or cram school that’s all the rage, to win approval from their father.
Third grade is too early for a child to live a tight, Spartan regimen of math, science and English hagwon classes, then private tutoring in math, English, basketball and violin, with only a 30-minute break each day.
Thirty years from now, when he’s even more stressed out from the responsibilities of living, what kind of childhood will he look back on? What daydreams, what reminiscences, what memories of childhood will put a smile on his tired, weathered face?
I doubt that remembering the days he had six straight hours of tutoring will do the trick.
I know it’s a tough world out there. I know it’s important to get an early start, to get ahead of the competition. But I also know there’s a time for everything. Let children be children — there will be time for everything else later in life.

* The writer is a former editor of the SNU Quill, news magazine at Seoul National University.

by Yoo Kyung-ha
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