In February 2022, cable channel MBN announced a new show called “Koding Eomppa” (translated as “High School Mama And Papa“). The show would deal with the heavy topic of teenage pregnancies in South Korea. Though the network stated that the show’s aim was to create awareness around infant education and sex education, its teaser was met with harsh criticism from the South Korean public.
Premarital pregnancies are heavily looked down upon even for adults in South Korea. When it comes to teenage pregnancies, it is not only the question of propriety anymore. People perceive teenage parents as irresponsible for bringing a child into the world without any financial independence, which would only make life harder for the child.
Initially, many people criticized the show for making light of such a serious topic. Some feared that the show might promote teenage pregnancies in a positive light and affect young minds. Others mocked that the show might be an attempt to spike up the lowering birth rate in the country.
Despite the backlash, MBN went forward with the show and aired the first episode on March 6, and defied every negative assumption made about its format so far. It focused on the tough lives of teenage parents instead of trying to make things entertaining or sensational. Three teenage moms shared their stories with the three hosts – comedian Park Mi Sun, rapper-TV personality Haha, and actor In Gyo Jin, along with two experts: sex educator Lee Si Hoon and counselor Park Jae Yeon.
One of the teen moms, Kim Jiwoo, said that she wants to change the negative perception of parents of her age and that is why she decided to appear on the show. She ran away from home after an argument with her mother and met her boyfriend at her workplace. Despite her parents’ harsh criticism of her pregnancy, she decided to give birth.
I could not give up my baby.
— Kim Jiwoo
After listening to her entire story, Lee Si Hoon commented, “People can carry on with their lives if there is one person who always stands next to them. But in the case of Kim, she had no one … She can perform her role as a mother properly only if there is sufficient emotional and financial support.”
The show is still on air, and it seems like the perception around its concept is slowly processing towards positivity among viewers. While the teaser video’s comment section was full of criticism in March, it is now filled with supportive and open-minded comments.
- The baby is cute. I hope the entire family stays healthy and happy. Don’t get bothered by what others think or say. I hope you take responsibility for your life and live it faithfully.
- There are some parents who get pregnant at an older age and abandon their babies. It is amazing that you’re raising your kid at such a young age. It’s your life choice, so it doesn’t matter what others say.
- Even though it isn’t a good thing to give birth as a high school student, it is amazing that both as a parent and a student, you went through the difficult 10 months of pregnancy, holding your child and giving birth to them and you are raising them responsibly instead of abandoning them.
Psychology professor Lim Myung Ho of Dankook University, who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry, defended the show from public criticism and said that this is a necessary point of discussion for this country. According to the Statistic Korea database, there were 918 teen mothers in Korea as of 2020, and among teenagers who had experienced sexual intercourse, the average age of their first experience was 13.6 in 2018.
Korean society has viewed teen parents with indifference, prejudice or pity at best in serious documentaries…But whether they’re deemed morally appropriate in our Confucian values or not, teen parents need society’s attention and active help. In that sense, I think this program is meaningful as long as it teaches how to raise a baby in a more fun but informative way.
— Lim Myun Ho
According to Mr. Lim, Korean society views child-rearing as an individual job. But in reality, it requires a strong support system from society and the community to raise a child in a healthy manner. This show, according to him, has the potential to spark that change.
You can watch the first episode of High School Mama And Papa here: