Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Over-scheduling and Hyper-parenting: Me and My Birthday Cake, Tony Fucile's Let's Do Nothing

Never a doll moment for children of hyper-parents

Annie Ho (familypost@scmp.com)
Mar 25, 2012

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Over-scheduling - filling a child's every waking moment with a planned activity - is a way of life in Hong Kong. Interestingly, this is not limited to dual-income families, in which parents think that it's better to have their children take a lesson and learn something tangible, than to leave them alone with a caregiver.
Stay-at-home parents are just as guilty. Hyper-parenting is the term given to this phenomenon, in which family life revolves around children and all the parents' free time is spent on school runs, accompanying them to lessons, and sharing child-centric experiences with them.

Not surprisingly, studies have shown that over-scheduled children can have increased stress, anxiety and physical ailments. But how behaviour-changing is this conclusion when it's the cultural norm? Working more than 40 hours per week can also lead to poor health, but many wage-earners continue to work unhealthily long hours because that's the Hong Kong way of life.

I may not be the typical Hong Kong hyper-parent with toddlers taking formal lessons to learn how to tap-dance, build Lego structures and speak Spanish … all in the course of a sunny Sunday morning. But I am a hyper-parent nonetheless.

I shamelessly try to fill my elder daughter's free time with activities such as going strawberry picking, watching every children's show that comes to town, and attending birthday parties of my friends' children whom she's never met. The operative word here is "try" because I have a co-parent who is holding me back. Hyper-parenting can only really take off when both parents are eager participants.

The problem with hyper-parents is that we enjoy being actively involved in our children's lives, spending time with them, and providing different environments in which to learn, grow and develop. We believe that giving our children varied experiences will enrich their lives. I am always on the lookout for opportunities. Just the other day, I went out of the way, and at some inconvenience, to take my elder daughter to choose her own birthday cake after reading aloud to her Cen Pengwei's Me and My Birthday Cake, a Chinese-language story about a little girl whose mother let her pick her own birthday cake.

Parents are so busy managing their children's lives that they have no time for their own personal growth, and yet, many of them feel happy and fulfilled to be such a great physical presence in their children's formative years. This is the paradox of hyper-parenting.

With Easter break approaching, I've started feeling even more "hyper" than usual as I explore the various sports and arts camps in Hong Kong, out-of-town excursions and other schedule-fillers to make the most out of those two weeks. If I don't plan ahead such precious time for enriching experiences may be wasted, and this possibility makes me antsy.

For some perspective, I turn to Let's Do Nothing by Tony Fucile.A master illustrator who spent more than 20 years animating movies such as Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, Fucile hilariously presents the story of Sal and Frankie, two boys who, after playing with everything, attempt to do nothing.

And so, I pause and reflect: children have no concept of waste of time or better use of time. They don't spend an afternoon at home rearranging sofa cushions and superhero action figures, and then think: "Oh, I should be doing something more productive."

This Easter, let us all try to suppress those "hyper" urges and just dot the schedule with occasional playdates so that our children and their friends can create and imagine like Sal and Frankie.

Annie Ho is a board governor of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong (bringmeabook.org.hk), a non-profit organisation devoted to improving children's literacy.

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