Hyowon Kim and Eric Youngstrom specialize in child and adolescent development: Kim as a university hospital psychiatrist in Korea, Youngstrom as a psychologist and neuroscientist in the States. He has also spent eight summers in Korea, as an adjunct professor at Korea University.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this conversation, the two professors described how Korean parenting is changing. Parents here are becoming warmer—“Tiger Moms” they are not—and they’re increasingly less likely to use guilt as a motivator. That said, the damaging consequences of high expectations are still playing out in families today. And this final part of the conversation addresses one key factor: parent-child communication.
Eric Youngstrom: It is a great question. And it is nice to hear that other data looks similar to what we found and were describing. So it’s not a one time finding or “Wow, that’s a surprise”.
I think that it is easier for parents to notice the aggression and acting out. Lots of research in the United States finds that families come to clinic because of externalizing behaviors. And teachers refer children for the same reasons. In general, grown-ups do not notice the internalizing as fast as the child or teenager do. This difference may just be part of being a parent. Many of us don’t recognize what is happening inside our children.
But you’re right that Korean parents were much less sensitive than parents from other countries about recognizing mood symptoms in their children. They were also much less accurate.
I think that some of that is probably not so much the high control and high structure as much as the lower warmth.
I’d be curious to ask families where they were in terms of warmth, and then to look at how perceptive the parents were to internalizing in their child. One theory might be the more warmth, the more the child will talk about their mood. The more open the child is, the more aware the parents are. In other words, more warmth is more communication. More openness. More understanding what is happening emotionally with my child or teenager.
Another idea that I’ve talked about with my students is stigma. Stigma is very high for depression, and it’s high for stress too. People are feeling very extreme levels of stress but no-one wants to talk about it. Everyone is feeling anxious but they aren’t willing to seek help about it. Because there’s so much embarrassment and stigma.
So another possibility I’d been considering was that Korean parents are in denial and don’t want to recognize stress in their children. But when I talked about this with my students they said, “Maybe, but the bigger factor is that I don’t talk with them about it. I don’t share with them because we don’t have that kind of relationship. I’m not sure how they would react. I think it would only make them stressed.”
Just goes to show it’s always worth gathering data.
And when I think about parenting styles, in my mind I can imagine a pure Tiger Mom. She might never ask if their child is anxious or depressed. And if she heard that her child was feeling depressed, I could see her saying: “I don’t care. Talk to the hand.” Or perhaps she’d see it like an athlete getting an injury: “We must get this fixed quickly so you can get back to studying.”
And I think it’s different with Korean parents. I think it’s more that they’re just not used to talking about depression. Because there’s not so much of the warm style, and the communication that goes with it.
My guess is that most Korean parents would respond to depression with “I’m sorry” and “I didn’t know” or—going back to what you were saying earlier—“If I’d known, I would have done something different.”
Yes. Right. Right. Right. And I could see that leading to denial. To not looking for the depression. And if they see hints of it, saying “no”, because that would mean they were doing something wrong.
So I’m not familiar with the exact scales.
Oh that explains it!
(This figure shows the typical results of the Parenting Attitude Test, as completed by parents, and the Parenting Attitude Test – Youth, as completed by children. We can observe that Supportive Expression and Rational Explanation are very high on the PAT but low on the PAT-Y. High Involvement, Punishment, Superintendence and Inconsistence are higher than expected both on the PAT and the PAT-Y. Lim HC. Parenting Attitude Test. Seoul: Mindpress;2008)
The pattern of similarities and differences that you’re describing makes sense to me. I’m not surprised. And some of it is similar to what we were talking about with the externalizing and internalizing.
Some things are easy to observe… Did it happen or did it not? Many people will agree about those things. So, seeing higher levels of agreement about externalizing isn’t surprising. Higher levels of agreement about involvement or punishment would be a great example. Both people remember if the child’s gotten spanked—the child is not forgetting about that, and the parent will remember that too. Maybe there have been “losses of privileges”, like taking away a cellphone. Everyone is going to remember those times.
When there are differences, about things like Supportive Expression, I think I can see several contributing causes. One is the difference of intention. The parent is saying things that they intend to be supportive. They may think: “I’m providing an explanation.” But their child hears it differently. The parent knows what they wanted to do, what their intention was. The child knows how it felt, regardless of how the parent intended it to feel. A parent could think they’re being warm, but at the end of the day, the child knows whether or not they felt any warmth.
The second thing is some of this is just part of parenting. When the parent provides an explanation and feels that they’re being reasonable, the teenager may still feel they’re being unreasonable.
Say my daughter is wanting to go out with a boy after midnight, to the waffle house. When I say, “I don’t think it’s a good idea—it’s past bedtime,” I’m providing an explanation. She could say, “You’re being unreasonable, this is a friend, it’s just a waffle house, we’re not going drinking, it’s not like we’re going to a party.” I’ve given my explanation. But she continues: “You’re so mean, you’re not listening.” And so, some of this is just that children and parents aren’t always going to agree. The parent is going to feel: “I offered an explanation.” The child is going to feel: “I still don’t agree.”
I like this scale. It’s very easy to explain to the parents, and it’s easy for them to understand what their kid is thinking. I usually say just what you were saying: “You might have had those intentions, but your child didn’t feel them.”
And actually, Korean mothers tend to bring up the same thing over and over again. They can be very repetitive. They bring up a current behavior but also focus on past behaviors. “Your room’s a mess today. Your bag was a mess last week. You left the bathroom in a mess last month. I asked you to be tidier so many times.”
Again, and again!
Again and again. Very typical behavior!
… When I show PAT and PAT-Y results to parents, I tell them it’s obvious they have good intentions, but they need to learn how to talk with their kids.
So do you know John Gottman’s work?
Bringing up the past is one behavior that predicts divorce…
Well, talking about the scale sounds really intriguing. I could use it when I work with a family, when I ask parents and teenagers or children to build things out and see things differently. And I wonder if there are ways you’ve tried to use the differences. I could imagine pointing to the scale and saying: “Look, we talked about five different things. You already agree on three. So it’s not that you disagree about everything. There’s a lot that you’re already seeing the same way. But this, you’re seeing very differently. Help me understand why.”
And I would ask them: “What do you make of this. How is this happening? Why are you seeing things differently here?” And then I’d be listening to help them see a way of doing this differently, like you were describing. I can see several possible reasons. It wouldn’t be the same for each family.
I’d avoid saying that one is right and the other wrong. I’d just ask them to help me understand the difference.
You can also read Part 1 and Part 2 of this conversation. Hyowon Kim and Eric Youngstrom would be happy to respond to your comments or questions. Feel free to direct any to our Facebook page or firstname.lastname@example.org.