【Blog Post】Can Kids Really Be Just Kids in HK?

By Christal Maasdorp

We moved with our 3 children from Namibia in Africa (people always look very confused when I mention where we are from) to Hong Kong almost 3 years ago. Of course any kind of change is always hard in the beginning, and getting my head around how the admission processes to the different schools work was also a bit of a nightmare. It took me a good 6 months to get into the swing of things, but I am happy to report that our whole little family absolutely love living in Hong Kong.  There are however a few things regarding the way that kids are brought up here that makes me a little sad for them….

As I have mentioned, I have 3 kids, a fourteen-year-old (teenagers are so fun…), a five-year-old and a three-year-old.  Every morning when I walk the two little ones to school I see other toddlers also on their way to school and some are in strollers fast asleep. Others are still eating their breakfast on the way to school.  And not just toddlers, primary school kids too.  Why are these little ones so tired and why don’t they have time to eat breakfast at home? 

The answer to that is that most kids in Hong Kong have incredibly long days, shuffling from one after-school activity to the next.  I’m not saying we should not encourage our children to join an activity that they love or have an extra class for a subject that they are struggling with, but how much of these activities is for their own fun and enjoyment and how much of this is to keep them occupied while parents are busy? Or is it for bragging rights about how many incredible things your child is capable of doing?

My toddlers are in bed at 19h30 most nights - because they need their sleep to grow and thrive and stay awake to pay attention at school - but before I go to bed at 22h00 I still hear kids in the passageway only coming back from their long day of school, activities, or maybe family dinner.  Are we expecting too much from these little people and are we giving them the time to have fun, rest and grow through play?

I can’t remember a single day when I was growing up that I did not play outside or go riding on my bicycle.  I still did my homework and I still did the sport that I enjoyed, but I had no pressure from my parents about that.  They just made sure that we knew that hard work reaps rewards, but as long as you feel you are doing your best, have all the fun you want.  I know it is different here; people don’t all live in houses with gardens.  We also have to make do with the parks around us as we live in an apartment complex, but we take the little ones to the park every day even if it is just for 20 minutes.

I definitely think that balance is important and that it is our job as parents to make sure that we don’t put too much pressure on our kids, especially when they are still so small.  We can teach them that school is important, and that practising something makes you better at it, but we also need to open our eyes and see when a child is not enjoying something, or is tired or just needs a little down time.  I know a lot of parents sign their kids up for all these after school activities because they  are at work all day and want the kids to be occupied, but it doesn’t all have to be educational, it can also be something fun.

Do we want their childhood memories just to be a busy blur?  Even just taking half an hour a day to play with your child one-on-one can mean the world to them.  I see how my 5-year-old’s face lights up when she asks me if I will play with her and I say yes, even if it can only be a little while because I have to start making dinner.  All that children ultimately want is love and attention and that is free to give.  I know a lot of mommies and daddies work and it can be very hard to schedule time for everything, but try to schedule a moment with your child each day where you don’t talk about school, classes or activities, you are just in that moment for them. 

I don’t want to tell anyone how to raise their kids as I think every parent only tries their best, but they are only little for a short while and happy childhood memories are priceless.

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