[Viewpoint] Are you a one-percent parent?One of the things that evokes empathy - not to mention frustration and anger - in journalists who cover crimes and accidents is family violence, especially when the perpetrator is the child.
When parents become victims of their own children, we often feel anger. But as we investigate the family background and circumstances of the incidents, reporters often feel frustrated that many of the crimes could have been prevented had the problems been properly addressed.
Last week, a high school senior in Seoul killed his mother. Their “electron family,” a family consisting of one or two people that is smaller than the traditional nuclear family, consisted of a single mother and her son who failed to reconcile the trouble between them.
The family’s end was nothing but a tragedy. After killing his mother, the son kept her dead body at home for eight months and even took the College Scholastic Ability Test. His behavior is incomprehensible to those of us who live by common sense.
The bizarre and heinous nature of the crime leaves room for debate over whether to publish the story or not. However, the case is part of Korean society’s chronic education problem and consequent dissolution of families. The son was hopeless as his mother forced him to become a “learning machine” and chose an extreme measure to escape from her shackles.
A man in his 20s visited the police station that has jurisdiction over the case and pleaded for mercy on the murderer’s behalf. He said that he had beaten his father with a baseball bat when he was a high school senior and had served 18 months in prison for attempted murder. He claimed that parents who oppress their children and force their ways should realize that their children are independent beings, not their possessions. He asked parents and children to respect each another.
As a father of three children, I found his random involvement rather unpleasant, but at the same time, I realized that he had a point.
My wife, too, is concerned about the academic performance of our children. When my high school son skips hagwon and works out, she frets. When he goes out with his friends, my wife is devastated as if she had all the worries in the world. One day, my wife asked for my help, and we thoroughly kept track of his daily routine as well as any deviations from that routine. I would often mention exemplary cases to him.
As a last resort, we had a meeting with a college admissions expert, and the meeting left us embarrassed.
The consultant asked us why we expected our son to excel academically. We responded, “Well, academics is not everything in life but it is certainly important. It may be an easier way to enjoy a stable life in the future, compared to sports and arts. As much as we want to see good results, we hope to see him studying hard and use his potential.”
He responded, “So you basically want him to get into a top three school and become a judge, a lawyer, a doctor or a corporate executive?”
Sensing what he was getting at, we insisted that we hoped our son would become someone who could contribute to society.
Then the consultant asked us what we were doing to help him study, aside from constant advice and lectures. And he added, “Do you know what percentage of applicants actually get into Seoul National University?”
We had no idea. He said that 700,000 students take the CSAT every year, and only 1 percent gets into SNU’s popular departments. “Do you think you, the parents, are among the top 1 percent of all parents and are working hard to stay in the 1 percent?” After the meeting, his advice lingered on our minds. “You should think whether you are pressing your children not for them but for yourselves. You can learn about life through your children.”
In order to prevent another family tragedy, parents need to change their mindsets more than their children. Charismatic teacher John Keating in “Dead Poets Society” is more desperately in need at home than at school. Carpe diem!
*The writer is chief editor of social affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Park Jae-hyun