Korra’s Upbringing, Or, Why the Order of the White Lotus Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Raise Children
Let’s start with the facts as directly provided by the show:
- Korra was discovered by the Order of the White Lotus at the age of four.
- The OWL kept her in a compound in the Southern Water Tribe for the dual purposes of training and protection and were quite strict about keeping her under constant watch.
- Korra’s parents lived outside of the compound, but Korra was still emotionally close to them.
- Korra considered Naga to be her best friend; there’s no evidence that the OWL provided her with peers inside the compound or allowed her to make excursions outside to interact with anyone her age.
Now, given these facts, what kind of assumptions can be made about Korra’s background?
- Given that, as per point 2, Korra’s protection is at least as important as her training, it is quite likely that she was taken to the compound as soon as it became an option. It can therefore be assumed that Korra was either immediately taken into the OWL’s custody after her discovery or brought in immediately following the construction of the compound. Either way, she’s likely been raised by the OWL since the age of four (per point 1).
- Per point 3, the OWL kept Korra separate from her parents. Given the size of the compound, there’s no reason her parents shouldn’t have been given living space inside the compound itself unless the OWL wanted to limit the amount of time they could spend with Korra. In fact, given that Korra wasn’t completely cut off from her parents, allowing them to live outside the OWL’s protection creates a potential security risk that the OWL ought to have tried to avoid if possible (since it would be quite a problem if the Avatar’s closest family members were taken hostage). Presumably, Korra’s parents don’t live with her because the OWL doesn’t want her to get too attached (which offers the further implication that the OWL might be averse to close non-familial attachments as well, limiting Katara’s ability to take a mothering role towards Korra).
- Point 4 directly implies that Korra was never really allowed much in the way of close peer interactions, either. It’s quite possible that, if all of her teachers and sparring partners were adults far outside of her age range (as was implied by her firebending test), she never had any close human friends whatsoever.
And here’s the upshot of all that:
Korra has, for all intents and purposes, been denied consistent affection since the age of four in favor of conditional praise.
Her upbringing was, therefore, emotionally neglectful if not outright abusive (and I sure hope that the OWL didn’t treat her the same when she was five as it did during her firebending test). The OWL might have meant well, but they had no idea how to raise a child and messed it up as badly as they possibly could given a legitimate desire to do what was best for her.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that Korra has identity issues and a need for validation as the Avatar; she learned from a very young age not to count on her parents love, and ended up filling in the hole by impressing people with her bending. This is, as can be expected, something of a recipe for disaster in terms of raising a well-adjusted individual.
To make matters worse, the majority of the praise that Korra did get would have been in the context of violence, given that her demonstrated talents are all martial in nature. Her life was highly controlled, except insofar as she could impress the OWL by showing up her sparring partners or use force/manipulation to get what she wanted over the OWL’s objections. Violence would have been, essentially, the only way for Korra to define herself and take charge of her own life, which inevitably caused her need for validation to become all the more dangerous.
Or, in other words, by trying to train Korra into the perfect Avatar, the OWL itself crafted her into exactly the sort of person who goes to extremes to get what she wants, doesn’t take no for an answer, and has little experience dealing with people as peers as opposed to obstacles. Korra might be a highly flawed protagonist, but it can’t be said that she doesn’t have a good reason for being the way she is.