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[Kim Seong-kon] A time to leave your parents

By Korea Herald

Published : May 8, 2024 - 05:31

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It is nature’s law that children leave their parents when they enter adulthood. Whether we are talking about humans or animals, there comes a time when children leave their parents and become independent. No one can expect to live with his or her parents or children forever.

Traditionally in America, when your child turns 18 years old and enters legal adulthood, your parental duties and responsibilities are finally over. Your child becomes independent by either leaving home for college or getting a job. In past generations, when children entered college, American parents would help with tuition only. At that time, nearly all college students had to work part-time for their living expenses.

These days, things have changed. Reports say that many American parents are now supporting both tuition and living expenses for their children attending college. Reports also state that some young adults in their 20s or 30s still live in their parent’s homes nowadays due to financial reasons. People say that we are now living in a strange era when the children’s generation is poorer than their parent’s generation.

In South Korea, the situation seems much more serious. Traditionally, Koreans find it difficult to cut the umbilical cord, and Korean parents think that they should continue to support their children financially even after they become adults. Naturally, Korean children, too, assume they can depend on their parents even after they have grown up.

As a result, more than 3 million Korean young adults are now receiving financial help from their parents, according to recent statistics. Furthermore, there is the so-called “kangaroo tribe” who are living in their parents’ pouch, just like baby kangaroos. Recently, a popular YouTuber pointed out that in South Korea, about 650,000 people between 30 and 49 are still living with their parents. Consequently, he said that about 20 percent of retired Korean parents were bankrupt due to the financial burden caused by their adult children who did not want to leave the comfort of the pouch.

We may assume that when and if our children marry off, they can become independent financially. Not quite so. These days, a wedding in South Korea can cost more than $100,000. Moreover, the typical cost of renting an apartment is so exorbitant that many newlyweds cannot possibly afford it. Thus, parents’ financial support is indispensable.

On the other hand, parents who are not financially well off, too, can be a burden to their children, as they grow old and sick. In that case, children may become bankrupt due to astronomical expenses for hospitalization, operations and health care for their ill parents. Parents and grown-up children are not supposed to be a burden to each other, and yet it seems inevitable in South Korea.

In foreign countries, a similar phenomenon has happened as well, and yet it has not been as serious as in Korea. In the 1990s, for example, young people who were NEET appeared in the UK. NEET stands for “Not in education, employment, or training.” NEET eventually spread to other countries, such as Japan, South Korea, and the US. However, it had nothing to do with the majority of young people.

In Japan, too, new words have appeared to describe an emerging class of young people. For example, the phrase “parasite singles” refers to young adults who still depend wholly on their parents, while “freeter,“ a shortened version of “free arbeiter,” where ”arbeiter“ refers to a part-time worker, describes a person between the age of 25-34 who does not have full-time employment, but only holds a part-time job at a place like a convenience store during his or her entire lifetime. Japan is a country well known for its people’s tendency of “not depending on others” or “not being a burden to others.” Even in Japan, however, the new trend of financially depending on one’s parents seems to be spreading.

This new trend stems from various causes, such as expensive living costs, skyrocketing real estate prices and a tight job market, in addition to insecure financial status. Moreover, radical changes in the way young people view independence have played a role in this widespread phenomenon.

However, we all have to leave our parents when we become adults. We should learn to be independent and part with our parents even though it is difficult and inconvenient. We cannot depend on others constantly, even if it is our parents. It is costly to raise a child. Therefore, it would not be fair if we depend on our parents continually after we become an adult.

When they were young, your parents, too, must have worked hard in order to be financially independent. Your parents belong to the generation that has to support their parents and children at the same time. They are bearing double burdens on their shoulders.

Dear young adults, you should be independent and relieve your parents from the heavy burden of supporting you. Meanwhile, our political leaders should come up with ideas to solve this menacing social problem.

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are the writer’s own. -- Ed.