I thought it would be nice if I waited till after Mother’s Day to post this.
While some parents are great, open, progressive, aware, and cool, here’s what it’s (edit:
usually) generally like to try to talk to an expatriate Korean parent1 whose kid is showing signs of serious emotional or mental disturbance2:
THE PARENT: “… what do you mean, problems? Do you think… do you think maybe he’s addicted to video games?”
YOU: “Uh… look at your son. He’s rocking back and forth, and his eyes are glowing red, and the electricity is flashing on and off to the beat of his chanting…”
THE PARENT: “I know, but… look at his report card, it’s so good! Maybe he just needs more English lessons.”
YOU: “Okay, but… did you just see his head spin 360° without stopping? Do you think it’s common for kids to be chanting in Latin backwards and puking green pea soup while levitating?”
THE PARENT: “Latin….? Well… my friend said lots of English words come from Latin. Will this help his English, do you think?”
Of course, sometimes it’s just the kid scratching little bloody holes into his rash-covered little arms because his “atopy” is pretty much going completely untreated and has been for months on end… Because why try address the symptoms or, you know, do anything when you can just shout, “Stop scratching your arms and do your homework!”
1. Parents-in-denial regarding serious mental health problems isn’t uniquely Korean, but Korea’s taboos regarding mental heath care, and Korea’s still-growing system for providing it, make it much more culturally acceptable (or even necessary, one might argue) among South Korean parents to be deeply in denial than in Canada or the USA. Things are much worse for Korean kids living abroad, who have zero access to any kind of treatment or support system.
2. We’re not experts. You don’t need to be, to notice when a kid has severe issues. The parents of kids with anxiety issues–say, those exhibiting selective mutism–seem to be slightly more aware that there’s a problem (I suppose because the problem is hard to ignore), even if they don’t know what to do and often pursue the worst possible solution–like more English lessons, or speech therapy, which fail to address the underlying anxiety. But in general at least they seem to tend to be trying to find a way of dealing with it, and honest with themselves about the existence of a problem. One mom we know is really great, and struggling, and our hearts go out to her for all the efforts she is making. She gets that stuff like this–issues kids have–can be talked about without judgment or shame or ridicule.
On the other hand, it’s the parents of kids who are, say, obsessed with death (especially fantasies about everyone around them dying), or who look at everyone they meet with a threatening, hateful look, who are most in denial. I mean, yes, there’ a subjective element, but it’s also shades of We Need to Talk About Kevin, at times. The parents of these kids rarely can see past the report card to the fact that it’s not normal to talk about death all the time, or for a kid to cheer when he hears that more than two hundred teenagers died in the Sewol Ferry Disaster… or to salivate at the news that global warming could indirectly kill millions of people… or to give such a terrifyingly baleful glare on first meeting that one of us says, “That boy is not having lessons in our house.” (By the way, I truly wish I was making even one of these examples up.)
Oh, and yes, the rare scary kids are usually boys, I’m sorry to say. The really messed-up girls tend toward anxiety disorders that looks like extreme shyness, or extreme social awkwardness. They’re sort of wallflowers turned up to 11, whilst the problem boys we’ve met several boys, inspire speculation about shining future in crime, mass murder, or genocide. Actually, the only girl who has succeeded in scaring us, only managed to do so because she was tiny, cute, and had way too much energy for us to handle. (Adults, of course, are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.)