Inside The Life Of A North Korean Teen

It's fair to say that life as a teenager can be just as carefree as it is challenging. Everyone has vivid memories of those awkward dates and wonderful social moments. Whether those memories are good or bad, teenage life in the western world doesn't hold a candle to what growing up in North Korea is like. Normally, in the U.S. and Western Europe, being 17 is a time to attend your big school dance or sometimes even start your first job. However, in North Korea, you are considered a full-fledged adult. 

It's also the time when you get a resident ID — one that labels you as a resident of Pyongyang, if you're lucky. According to The Guardian, if you get labeled as a resident of anywhere that's not Pyongyang, your freedom of movement is reduced to whatever the government will allow. However, this is just a taste of the crushing level of restrictions the North Korean government enforces on its population. 

What class did you graduate in?

As in every nation and society on the planet, what social class you belong to often dictates your future, as well as how you spend your free time. This is no different in North Korea, however, the bridge between the haves and have-nots could span the San Francisco Bay. According to The Infographics Show (via YouTube), there is the Donju or the top 1% of North Korean society, and then, there is everyone else. The Infographics Show (via Youtube) also reported that the average wage in North Korea is only $10 a month. Therefore, if you happened to be born into the Donju you'll have access to resources no average citizen could ever own: a $400 smartphone, sip on $4 lattes, or even play video games on old consoles smuggled from out of the country. 

However, if you're not part of the Donju, life will look rather different. Most teens across North Korea have very little free time. From school and studying to helping pay the bills, most North Korean teens will have next to no time to themselves. If they can afford it, you might be able to find North Korean teens at movie theaters playing the same two movies on loop for months, or at the local swimming pools, bowling alleys, or even roller rinks. However, it is highly unlikely that the average teen would be able to go to these places often according to The Infographics Show.

Trying to find a date

Getting up enough courage to ask someone out on a date is hard enough on its own. It's especially hard when your entire society frowns on public displays of affection (via The Independent). In North Korea, dating is considered completely taboo and young women are expected to remain abstinent until their family arranges a marriage for them. During the marriage, women are in essence required to have as many children as possible to better serve North Korea. Schools teach zero sex education and sex before marriage is highly discouraged (reports The Independent). This concept of what a young woman is expected to do doesn't always play out the way North Korean society expects it to. 

Teens still date, however, they are much more secretive about it. While the parents are away at work, couples would simply go to each other's houses to be intimate (Via the Independent). According to The Infographics Show (via YouTube), some North Korean families don't hold the same beliefs about dating as the general populous and deem the practice permissible as long as neither teen shames the family.

The beginning of "real life"

For teens in North Korea, real-life starts the minute they are done with secondary school. By law, they are required to go to the military for a set length of time based on gender. Men will be conscripted for 10 years and women get six years with some important caveats, according to The Infographics Show (via YouTube). If conscripts and their families are part of the upper-crust or the conscripts show impressive physical abilities, they can go to special forces units or even officer schools. 

As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule. Students belonging to elite families and who show academic promise can shorten or even avoid military service by attending one of the few North Korean universities. According to The Guardian, the biggest factor in your life out of being a teenager is whether you join the Korean Labor Party. Ironically, by getting the chance to join the Korean Labor Party you can avoid a life of hard labor. The Korean Labor Party is less a political party and more of an all-seeing eye in the sky for the economy of North Korea. The Guardian reported that joining the party is the only way of climbing the social ladder, and anyone who doesn't, is more or less destined to a life of actual labor and poverty. While the embarrassing acne and awkward first kisses as a teenager in the West can seem to last forever, the struggles of a teen in North Korea could hardly compare.