Raising North Korean Orphans - Technology

It was an abrupt ending to what was a wonderful time with our North Korean orphan, "Jae Hwa". One evening about two years ago, a child in one of our group homes said she was leaving for a boarding school nearby. The house fell under a muffled silence after she left, as if covered in a thick blanket. Jae Hwa had been planning this with her father for months but nobody in the home knew.

Like all the children in this home, Jae Hwa’s mother was North Korean refugee who was purchased by a Chinese man. Her mother was captured by the Chinese police and sent back to a North Korean prison camp when Jae Hwa was eight-years-old. She came into Crossing Borders’ care in 2011, when she was 13-years-old.

Jae Hwa’s father went to South Korea to find work and kept in touch with his daughter by text message via the smart phone he purchased her.

The children in this home were allowed to have smart phones for this very purpose. As time went on, these phones became a nuisance. The kids were using them to play games and to text with their friends. It became harder to hold their attention and this led to conflict as the caretakers of this home would sometimes take these phones away.

Parents around the world are grappling with how to control their children’s smartphone use and so too are the caretakers of our North Kroean orphans. Not only do they have to deal with them as distractions but they must also be wary of the way our children portray their living conditions in these homes to their parents.

Jae Hwa would tell her father that she felt trapped in her home, that her caretakers were too strict and that she was unhappy. These accounts, one must note, were filtered through the lens of a teenage girl. She didn’t report any abuse or specific incidents of wrongdoing. What drove her away was the rigid structure of the home, something teens around the world struggle with.

Teenagers are impulsive. They make poor choices. They are reckless.

In 2012, National Geographic Magazine published a fascinating study on the teenage brain. It was once thought that brains are fully developed by the age of 10, recent studies found that teenagers have brains that are about 90 percent developed. This development could be one of the reasons why teenagers are so impulsive, the study said.

“These studies help explain why teens behave with such vexing inconsistency: beguiling at breakfast, disgusting at dinner; masterful on Monday, sleepwalking on Saturday,” the writer says. “Along with lacking experience generally, they're still learning to use their brain's new networks.”’

This might explain one of the factors to what we consider a poor decision on the part of Jae Hwa.

She thought that living in a dorm would allow her to do what she wanted. She thought that she would be able to go to play games at a local PC gaming business through the night. She thought she would be able to go to parties.

She realized that this wasn’t true at all.

Her dormitory has strict rules and in some ways is even stricter than her Crossing Borders group home.

Our caretakers are adjusting now. They are now loosening the grip they once held on our North Korean orphans. They are now allowed to go to birthday parties and their schedules are less rigid but for now, smartphones are banned in this home.

Jae Hwa visits the home every weekend for church and even brings her classmates along. She looks thin. She doesn’t like the food at the dorm and it does not offer meals on the weekends.

Every weekend our caretakers take Jae Hwa grocery shopping and they cook her any meal that she wants. They tell her repeatedly that she could come back to the home but she does not. Her father will not allow it based on the testimony she once gave him.

For now, all we can offer her are some meals, prayers and an open door.