Korean Tiger Parenting

Korean Tiger Parenting


What came first; Korea’s tough education standards or the high expectations of Korean parents?

Chicken or the egg?

Not all, but most Korean students excel in academics. Young students are intelligent, not because of genetics or racial reasons, but due to a cocktail of consistent training from after-school programs, summer and winter school, private tutors, extra-curricular lessons and hyper disciplined study at home.tiger-mum-korea-1

What Is a Tiger Mum

The common parenting style in Korea is one that focuses on achievement, performance, and finally success. These type of parents are nicknamed ‘wolf dad’ and ‘tiger mum’, however the ultimate ringmaster of this whole charade is typically the mother.

To  draw out and develop their child’s abilities, tiger mums intensely devote their time, money and life to their child. The creme de la creme of tiger mothers can be found in Seoul (Daechidong and Mokdong) and Gyeonggido (Bundang and Ilsan), where the most elite education is found.

My Tiger Mum Experience

My childhood was very different from all my other British friends. On weekdays after school, I attended piano, math and French classes (sometimes more). I then completed homework (from my school and various after-school classes), then ‘study’ which involved learning from textbooks or from my parents. 

In the lead up to A-levels (a Korean equivalent would be university entrance exams), the pressure was stifling. I would dread holidays and weekends because it meant intense study 24/7 (or at least the pressure to).

One winter, I was forced to live in Cambridge alone for just over a month and attend a Korean academy, where I had math and biology class every day. My room consisted of a mattress, desk and chair. The bus that I usually took to class would not run on Christmas, New Years Day and boxing day, so I would have to walk in the snow to class (yes, classes ran as usual).

It was my first Christmas and New Years alone. Away from family and friends to devote myself to study. The highlight of my time there was when another student and I craved ice-cream, but the accommodation didn’t have a freezer so we secretly beheaded our neighbour’s snowman and stored the tub in its torso. It was very tough, but it taught me insane work ethic.

tiger-mum-korea-2Modern Tiger Mums

I had no other Korean (or east-Asian) my age throughout my childhood, so I thought I was experiencing a form of child abuse because I had nothing to compare my life to. Now coming to Korea, I realise that my parents had recreated the same gruelling K-school style training for me in England.

The intensity of the mothers here didn’t phase me. Their relentless demand for excellence, travelling hours just for a class and investing millions in tutors is something normal in my childhood and here.

However, even amongst tigers, there is the queen tiger. Their dedication is scary. They meet up in cafes  to compare academies, study resources, and of course compare and gossip about children. Sometimes you can see them completing their child’s homework or even buying books for themselves (to learn what their child will study next year, so that they can tutor their child at home).

Pig Mum

In Seoul, the mothers of Daeichi district are infamous for being filthy rich and snobby. These mothers even go so far as to discriminate and isolate children and families who have under performing children, because they don’t want their own child to be negatively influenced.

These Daeichi tiger mothers have been labelled Dweji Umma (‘돼지엄마’) which means ‘pig mum’. Pigs are a symbol of wealth, which represent the huge financial investments they make on their children’s education. Pigs are also known to pamper and coddle their children. Dweji also sounds very similar to Daechi.

Why Do They Do This?

Society:

The reason why Korea was able to develop at this lightning fast rate and grow from a third world to a first world country in a few generations, is because of immense work ethic. These women who have been born and bred in Korea, know the ugly truth that society is elitist and hierarchical. In order to protect and ensure the best possible future for their family, they will stop at nothing.

Culture:

Korea has a huge family centred culture. If one person does well, everyone does well, but if one falls, everyone else is dragged down too. Being strict is to ensure that the latest member of the family does well to protect the value of the family name. A successful child reflects positively on the parent and family. Whether it shows elite DNA or best background, if your child excels the family rises to a higher status.

Love:

Ultimately, micro-managing and disciplining is a display of love and dedication. They are doing what they think is the best way to ensure the happiest and most comfortable life. After all, why would the mothers be spending huge amounts of dough on their child’s education, if the mother’s didn’t love them as much as material products.

The Childrentiger-mum-korea-3

If done well, this parenting technique can produce organised and self-disciplined people who have an ingrained work ethic and are able to beat international competition. They can grow up to get respected jobs, and build huge brands that boost Korea on the global market and build Korea’s economy.

The fact that Korea has such a high level of safety and lack of teen pregnancy, vandalism, drug abuse and school drop outs can be largely attributed to the environment that the parents created for the child.

If done wrong, the child can end up over qualified, under confident, low self-esteem, afraid of failure and have distant and broken relationship with family and other loved ones. It can also push people the wrong way and create rebels who are deliberately lazy and under-perform as well.

The Next Generation Of Tiger Mums

I myself as a Korean lady, who will one day (in the far future) become a mother, have actively kept a folder in my brain labelled ‘What Not To Do To’. I have witnessed some ridiculous parents (from mostly Gangnam mothers).

However, I am aware that there is tiger cub inside me that could easily get fiercer and take over. As I get older I empathize with the choices that tough-love tiger mums have made.

Rather worryingly I have realised that over the years I have naturally developed habits (like being hyper-critical and always trying to succeed no matter the emotional consequence) that tiger mums possess. Yet, European influences have diluted these tendencies a lot.

I am very curious of how myself and my peers will become the next generation of tiger mums and ajummas. Maybe we will be the perfect combination of Eastern-Western parenting techniques or maybe we will wreck the future with a whole new set of problems.

What do you think about Korean tiger mums? • If you like this post, please feel free to share • Content may not be reproduced unless authorized • Make sure you subscribe, new post every Thursday!

11 Comments

Add yours
  1. 1
    Megan Indoe

    Oh my goodness how old were you when you had to live on your own? It must have been tough seeing your friends grow up and treated completely different when it came to school. I always felt so bad for my students when I taught in Ilsan and Seoul. They seemed robbed of a childhood and you’re only young once! I think education is also important, but it would be nice to see more children enjoying their childhood a bit more. That lifestyle just carries on to their adulthood where it’s work work work. Adults even need a good work-life balance. I feel very fortunate for my childhood when learning more about tiger parenting!

    • 2
      Nicky Kim

      I lived with my parents for my childhood, but for summer and winter holidays I would often be shipped off to study camp.
      I know what you mean. I live in Gangnam, and at 10pm you can see all the kids flooding out the hagwon gates and walking home. It’s adorable but also a little sad.

  2. 3
    Kayley Chislett

    I find the parenting in Korea super scary as it is so different from how I was raised. I often feel so sad for students who look so sick and tired of learning and bored with life already. I guess the mums are doing it from a place of love, but I do think it is taken too far. I think Korea puts too much pressure and value on academic and financial success instead of being happy, healthy and well-balanced.

    • 4
      Nicky Kim

      Life in Korea is very difficult. It’s developed so fast, so I guess parents just want their children to keep up. If it does come from a place of love, but when you hear about all these student suicides…you do wonder how much is ‘love’.

  3. 5
    Alla Ponomareva

    It must be very heartbreaking for you to see the difference between the two worlds and two different parenting/educational styles in Korea vs. in Europe. Sadly, not a lot of Korean parents or their children have the same chance and think that this is the only way to succeed. I live in Daejeon and don’t see as big of a pressure as that of Seoul’s hagwons and school, Still, some kids here are studying till 11, 12pm and do it all over again the next day. I hope to see children play, experiment and be creative with their free time, even if all the choose to do is stay at home and play computer games. At least they end up feeling a little happy.

    • 6
      Nicky Kim

      Honestly, I think I am in a unique and blessed position. I experienced both Korean and British upbringing, so if you put a positive spin on it, I get the best of both worlds. I have a lot of Korean female friends older than me, and a lot of them are working crazy hours and enduring horrible working conditions, JUST SO that they can one day move to Australia or Canada for a better life for their children. So pretty much, they don’t want their child to be put under pressure.

  4. 7
    Rocio Cadena

    What a great read, NIcky! Thank you for diving deep into the background of tiger mothers. I can’t say I’ve had contact with them but I see their influence on my kids, especially at my main school, which is quite wealthy and the kids go to endless academies every day. I find your own personal take quite insightful too, as you experienced the intensity of K-schooling while growing up in England. I am fascinated by the education in Korea and like most things in life, it’s not fully black or white, but there are aspects of it that I find excessive. As humans, we can only handle so much pressure and expectations even if they result from a place of love and to ensure a bright future, you know? Korea does have the highest suicide rate in the industrialized world, both for elderly and teenagers. I’ll leave by saying that Korea is extremely fascinating to observe, interpret and write about!

  5. 9
    Nicole

    When I first started working at a hagwon in Korea, I was so shocked by the amount of studying that my little elementary students had to do. It seemed so different to my life in Scotland where we never had any formal testing until our standard grade exams (Scottish equivalent of the GCSE exams in England.) I was also shocked at how much impact the “tiger mums” had on the curriculum that we taught! Sometimes full textbooks would get changed just because one mum had raised a comment about it. It seems nuts to me! I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you living in The UK, having English friends and having that upbringing at the same time. I’m sure now you are appreciative of all the dividends that it brought you but it must have been really tough back then. It was so interesting to hear your perspective on this aspect of Korean culture. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. 10
    Kate Carter Hickey

    I have no Korean relatives, but this definitely is a great description for my own mum! I remember piano, singing, clarinet, choir, math, french, ballet, skating, soccer, and baseball growing up. I had no time for trouble! We were not a rich family in the slightest and my parents sacrificed a lot so I could be a well-rounded child. I think in this sense the ferocious Tiger mom is almost a compliment!

  7. 11
    Kaizque Ru

    Brilliant writing once again! This is the perspective and the explanations of what’s happening around me that I have been looking all over for.

+ Leave a Comment