Is Korea Child-Friendly?

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Do you have kids? Want to know more about child-friendly life in Korea? Here is the inside scoop.

Child-Friendly

Every culture has different views of what the term ‘child-friendly’ means. Sometimes the definition even changes between families or people within a culture. This makes it complicated for unsuspecting international families who ask a group of international strangers the simple but complicated question, “Any child-friendly activities?”

Over the years, South of Seoul volunteers like me have seen this simple request spark great debates and feelings of betrayal. Let’s be honest, anyone asking this question is probably at their wit’s end. They are parents who need support who have gone to a local expat group to find something easy and non-stressful for their family. When the recommendations don’t work out based on unspoken expectations, it can create some pretty bad feelings.

Since I have seen this happen, I thought I would share what I have learned about ‘child-friendly’ while living with my toddler in South Korea.

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Definitions of Child-Friendly

One definition of “child-friendly” refers to something that is suitable, safe, and appealing for children. This can pertain to a wide range of things including environments, activities, content, products, services, and more. Let’s take a look at each of these factors more closely:

  1. Environment: A child-friendly environment is one where risks have been minimized and children are free to engage in play or exploration. It is typically free of dangerous items or substances while also designed to be accessible and interesting to children.
  2. Activities: Child-friendly activities are those that are suitable for a child’s developmental level, interests, and abilities. These activities are engaging, safe, and offer opportunities for learning or fun.
  3. Content: Child-friendly content, like books, movies, or games, is designed to be appropriate for a child’s age and maturity level. It is free of explicit, violent, or adult-themed material.
  4. Products/Services: Products or services that are child-friendly are designed with children in mind. This means they are safe, easy to use, enjoyable, and potentially educational.

Another definition of “child-friendly” looks at the broader societal context of the term. In this case, child-friendly refers to policies or practices that respect the rights of children, promote their well-being, and consider their perspectives in decision-making processes. This might include laws, urban planning decisions, or educational policies, among other things.

‘Child-Friendly’ and Culture Shock

Families that move to a new country like Korea may experience culture shock when visiting child-friendly events or businesses. Such culture shock could be both positive and negative. Maybe some things seem better while other things seem more scary.

Since international residents in South Korea come from a wide range of countries and cultures, it’s impossible to predict how each family will experience cultural differences. However, it can be helpful for all of us to know what impacts each culture’s definition of child-friendly:

  1. Cultural Values and Norms: Different cultures have different perspectives on childhood, family, discipline, and independence. This could influence what one deems child-friendly. For example, some cultures may emphasize group activities and communal learning, whereas others may emphasize individual play and self-guided learning. Similarly, what is considered appropriate content in books, movies, and games varies greatly depending on cultural norms about topics like violence, romance, or the supernatural.
  2. Educational Systems: Education systems and philosophies can greatly influence the concept of child-friendliness. For example, countries that value strict academic learning may consider intensive study materials to be child-friendly, while those emphasizing play-based learning may define child-friendly education in terms of creative play, exploration, and social interaction.
  3. Legal Frameworks: Laws and regulations can influence what is deemed child-friendly. For instance, certain practices or products considered acceptable in one country but not in another due to differing safety standards, labor laws, or regulations around child protection.
  4. Social and Economic Factors: The broader social and economic context can also shape perceptions of child-friendliness. For example, in countries where children are expected to contribute to household chores or family businesses, child-friendliness might be understood in a way that integrates work and play.
  5. Health and Nutrition: Food and dietary habits, shaped by regional availability and culinary traditions, may impact what is considered as “child-friendly” food. Nutritional standards may also vary, influencing the composition of school meals or children’s menu options in restaurants.

Once a person understands that child-friendly varies, it can help them navigate their expectations as well as prepare their children for navigating new experiences. I certainly went through this and I want to share my experience with you.

My Experience with Child-Friendly Korea

Honestly, especially since we arrived in Korea with a toddler, one of the things that I will miss about Korea is how child friendly this country is. For me, child-friendly means that my child is made to feel welcome by the community around her. There don’t have to be specific types of child-focused activities, although those help. The thoughtfulness and generosity bestowed upon our little one while living in Korea is so far unrivaled.

Child-Friendly Havens

Korea has a wide variety of businesses that cater to parents with kids. Therefore, we visited almost every one we could find. Such businesses include:

  • kids’ cafes
  • restaurants with play areas
  • mommy/baby stations in shopping centers
  • the toddler potty seats in parks
  • museums with special kids’ areas
  • kids specific museums
  • farming experiences for kids
  • festivals with large sections of kids’ activities
  • malls with childcare stations and activities

Not to mention all of the free candy and toys that our little one has received from shops, cafes, and restaurant owners. At times, having children may make you feel like a celebrity. With the birth rate dropping early every month, kids get quite a lot of attention from older people in Korea.

Of course, all of the child-friendly spots in the Korean countryside may have provided me the false perception that children were welcomed everywhere. I mean, they are mostly, but there are some exceptions.

Child Free Zones

Having visited quite a few cafes around Korea, I am now very much aware that there are exceptions and important details to keep in mind when traveling around Korea with a child. Oftentimes, the closer you get to a major city, like Seoul, but even in Pyeongtaek, you’ll find cafes and restaurants with signs either designating “Child Free Zone”, which is often the upper floors of cafes, or “No Children Allowed”. Please don’t feel rejected, as we can assure you, there are many more places in Korea that welcome families.

Child-free zones are often on the upper level and/or rooftop level of restaurants and cafes. Often times these designations are just to keep your child safe and mitigate liability issues in these areas. Cafes and restaurants are not play areas. In addition, the staff shouldn’t be expected to monitor or police our children. Child-free locations also help to maintain a certain ambiance for more diverse patronage.

In our 3 years in Korea, we rarely felt inconvenienced by “child-free” locations. We’ve been denied entry from 3 locations in 3 years, just because we have a toddler. And yet, we have had countless family adventures here.

Tips for Communicating Your Definition of Child-Friendly

If you’re trying to plan a family adventure, you may be inclined to contact business owners and/or throw your question out to the social-media-verse. Before you do, we’d like to recommend being specific about what your family’s needs are. Remember that members of the online groups also come from different cultures that may not share your definition of ‘child-friendly.’ Since the term has no shared meaning and often becomes extremely vague, providing specific questions about your family needs provides better results.

Examples of How ‘Child-Friendly’ Differs Between People

To understand what I mean by “different meaning of child-friendly” let’s look at a recent misunderstanding I had with another person who shares the same passport as I do:

I long believed that noraebangs or karaoke rooms in Korea were all “Child Free Zones.” Specifically meaning that “children are not welcome at all.” However, a friend and fellow South of Seoul blogger recently visited a noraebang in Asan Techno Valley that welcomes families. In fact, I learned to noraebang is a favorite family activity in Korea. Therefore, there are often child and family-friendly noraebangs as well as child-free noraebangs.

However, when I communicated to another friend that we found a “child-friendly” noraebang location, she thought I meant a location that includes a play area and kids activities, not simply that children were allowed. For here, simply allowing kids to attend with the family didn’t make it child-friendly. As you can see, “child-friendly” meant two different things to us. For me, the noraebang was perfect for me and my child but not what she needed at all.

Another example of this form of miscommunication may happen when inquiring about “child-friendly” menu options. Make sure that you clearly communicate the hidden meaning you may hold. For example, while moderating groups, we have found this often means, “Is there Western food for kids?” However, many people offer international food options and the parents then feel frustrated due to miscommunication.

Therefore, it is best to be clear and specific about what you might mean by child-friendly food. Does your child have food allergies? Will your child only eat fries and chicken nuggets? Does your child hate spicy food? Your family will definitely enjoy your experience just a little more if you know how to advocate for your family’s needs in clear and specific ways understood across cultures.

Homework for Parents

I recommend taking an hour to sit down and talk about what you mean by ‘child-friendly’ as it relates to different topics like: hiking, cafes, restaurants, museums, parks, etc. Ask yourself the following questions to get started:

  • What age child am I talking about? Remember that kids range from 0-18 years old.
  • Am I looking for activities specific to my child? Are you looking for any activities good for your child’s age or activities that you are culturally familiar with?
  • Do I need activities for children of different ages? How many kids of different ages do you have?
  • What level of freedom to roam or support from staff do you expect? Some folks expect child-friendly places to be spots where they don’t need to watch their children.
  • What are your expectations concerning alcohol? Do you expect there to be no adult beverages available?

Managing Expectations

Now that you understand your expectations, you may find it easier to communicate about them and manage them. Managing expectations and being open to new views of the world is half the battle to enjoying life in a new culture like Korea.

Join The Pyeongtaek Family Fun Group

Join our Pyeongtaek Family Fun group. This South of Seoul moderated community includes active and friendly families sharing their adventures in Pyeongtaek.

Pyeongtaek Family Fun

Join The Pyeongtaek Travelers Group

You are also welcome to join our Pyeongtaek Travelers. This South of Seoul moderated community includes active and friendly travelers sharing their adventures across the country with their families. (Most of the members live in Pyeongtaek, South Korea).

Volunteer With South Of Seoul

Interested in working with a fun team of talented volunteers? The South of Seoul volunteer team is always looking for other like-minded folks to research information, compile blogs, and edit content.