Child Discipline in Korea and Japan

When I was in Japan teaching, I had never been to Korea. I was completely in love with Japan! I found everything about Japan fun and interesting. However, I got disappointed when my language school sent me to an elementary school to teach the kindergarteners the English alphabet. I had never encountered such naughty kindergarteners in my life! My Japanese bubble wasn’t burst, but it was slightly damaged. I couldn’t understand how a people that were always so kind, humble, and good to me could have children who were little monsters like were in that class. However, I was to find out they weren’t the only ones, and I eventually even figured out why.

This has traditonally been the age group most in need os discipline in Japan and Korea. Photo by Naomi Shi on Pexels.com

When I was in S. Korea, I was teaching a Sunday school class for S. Korean chuildren, and the group of mothers asked me to come and teach them English, and offered to pay me to teach them English. Most teaching contracts don’t allow foreign English teachers to do this, but mine did. I agreed and began going there after my regular classes a time or two a week to teach English to the children in one of their homes. The mothers would all be there hanging out in the living room together while I was in the dining room teaching their kids.

In the west, her parents teacher her the differnce beteen what is right and wrong, but in Korea and Japan, traditionally, the teachers teach them the difference between right and wrong. Photo by Natalie on Pexels.com

Once, on the way, one of the little boys got in the elevator with me. The apartment where we were going was up on one of the upper floors. I began to push the button, and the little boy pushed me aside and pressed every button in the elevator. I couldn’t get the buttons unpressed. That elevator stopped at every floor all the way up, about 24 floors. When we got to the top, the mother was standing there wondering what had happened, and I was very unhappy because he had made me late. I told the mother what happened, and she laughed. I couldn’t believe she didn’t correct him! I said nothing and went about my teaching.

Japanese and Korean students bow low to their teachers because it is part of the culture. The teachers not only teach them books, but also how to act Photo by Malibi 75 on Pexels.com

As I was teaching that group, they were a naughty bunch, but I was an entertaining teacher and could normally keep their attention anyway. They kept me too much on my toes and actually were driving me crazy. The mothers just sat in the adjacent room and ignored them. I finally said to the mothers one day, “Why don’t you teach your kids to be good? Why don’t you correct them when they cause trouble?” One of them replied, “What? We don’t correct the children! You are the teacher. It is your job to correct them. Parents don’t teach right and wrong, teachers do. ” I was baffled. I had already raised my own four kids, and I wasn’t going to raise their kids, so I quit and decided just not to mess with little Korean kids anymore.

It was a cultural problem that I eventually figured out. You see, in America, it is the parent’s job to teach the kids the difference between right and wrong, but in Korea and Japan, it is not the parents’ job, but the teacher’s job.

There is an old theory about child rearing that comes from Tibet that has worked for thousands of years. Photo by Tristan Le on Pexels.com

In Korea and Japan both, they subscribe to a very ancient philosophy of child rearing that comes from Tibet. It says that the kids are little and cute, and the parents’ only job is to love them. The parents are not supposed to correct their children. When the child starts school, it is the teacher’s job to get the kids under control. The traditional thought actually does say that the teachers in Korea and Japan are supposed to teach those kids the difference between right and wrong, and not the parents.

Right now, S. Korea has had a lot of influence from the west. The government has, in the past few years, outlawed the teachers from spanking the kids. It causes classrooms to be really crazy places with some of the kids really getting out of hand, and the teachers’ hands are tied. They can’t do anything about it. Western cultures don’t know what they are doing when they meddle in the affairs of other countries. If something doesn’t give, the kids who are kids now in Korea are going to grow up as spoiled brats because the parents think it is not their job to correct their kids, and the teachers aren’t allowed to.

If adults put the kids in line, the kids are less likely to be bullied or become bullies. Photo by sklei on Pexels.com

Sometimes, there is a problem with bullying in schools. The older kids, according to the Confucian theories that Korea is founded on, are always in charge. The younger ones must do what they say, and they usually do. However, if the younger ones have no idea how to conduct themselves, and an older student who has no compassion gets them, they can get bullied. If that older student has never been taught either, the younger ones are in big trouble. You want someone to put the kids in line, and you can only hope the older ones are mature enough to handle it so the current generation doesn’t grow up spoiled brats. However, most of the older ones are spoiled brats themselves and really don’t know the difference between right and wrong.

Some adult in S. Korea is going to have to stand up and be counted as responsible for the actions of their children. Either the parents need to step up or the teachers need to be given their power back. I have Korean friends who have small children, and I can see that the fathers are working on learning to be good fathers and keeping the kids in line. I have actually been astounded at the mothers because they are housewives, and they stay home with those kids all day, but they have no will to teach the kids any self discipline. I have seen little four year old boys rule over their mothers. However, I have also see fathers get serious and take the boys into the other room and sit and talk to them so hard the boys wouldn’t even consider doing something wrong.

I have been in a discussion with foreign teachers on Facebook, and they are all upset because their students are allowed to get away with all kinds of stupidity. One teacher said a kid grabbed his cell phone off his desk and threw it out the window. He told the parents when they came, and the parents took the kid’s side labeling the teacher as bad, but it is never okay to throw anyone’s cell phone out the window even if the teacher did something he shouldn’t have done. The kids will never learn that it was wrong, and next time he is mad at someone, he will do it again until someone finally puts the clamps on him.

I know that this idea of the teachers unable to spank the children came from the west. There have been a lot of good ideas come into S. Korea from the west, but this one, they didn’t need. Korea had an established way of raising their children that was working. The people form the west who talked them into outlawing teachers spanking had no idea what they were doing. They were messing with a culture that has worked for thousands of years. What will happen to it next?

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