ver heard of Fort Magic? The internet is abuzz
at the moment with America’s hottest toy trend
a kit of tubes and links with a book giving
instructions for building many different forts. You
can make them from old sheets and blankets, and kids love
them. With no flashing lights, no LED screens and not even
a volume knob in sight, these forts are a dose of good, old-
fashioned fun. But, for many over-scheduled kids in Hong
Kong, the chance to “ just play” is a rare, idyllic thing.
Perhaps parents in America are now heeding what
experts like child psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, who co-
The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting
have been calling for: a break for stressed-out parents
and over-scheduled kids and time spent together playing
and having fun.
Parenting in Hong Kong today may feel more like an
endless to-do list and can leave the whole family frazzled.
A dizzying array of activities on offer, coupled with a
desire to give our kids more than we ever had ourselves,
an insistence that they score top grades in class and keep
up with classmates in every way, has us signing our kids up
more than ever. A recent survey run by the Caritas Family
Crisis Support Centre found that 40 per cent of parents
interviewed spent three hours or less with their children per
day. When they were together, most of that time was spent
discussing learning, tutoring and other academic issues.
Family matters
School work and stress is a major issue in Hong Kong,”
says Claire Young, and it often comes at the expense of
family time. Claire is a specialist teen counsellor, and
has recently treated a girl with depression. Looking for
causes, she asked the girl’s mother about the last time
they ate dinner together at home. “She said that she
couldn’t remember the last time,” recalls Claire. When
Summer can provide necessary down-time and quiet for Hong Kong’s
over-scheduled kids, writes
Elle Kwan
time together got carved into their schedule, Claire saw
immediate positive results.
Experts like Claire say creating family routines has
multiple benefits. Eating together regularly, watching a
Friday night movie or completing a bedtime ritual fills a
need for structure that all kids crave. It sets a support system
in place, where trust and interaction are fostered early, and
opens an arena for children to discuss issues or problems
and for parents to watch for signs of stress or struggle. “You
find a place of trust where you can solve small problems
before they become big problems,” says Claire.
Strong family relationships are an invaluable foundation
as children enter difficult teenage years, where kids struggle
with identity and peer pressure. Interaction strengthens
sibling bonds too, extending that family support further.
Depression in Claire’s young client is only one
condition from a list affecting over-scheduled-schoolers.
Tantrums, stress, anxiety and insomnia are all concerns.
Perfectionism is another. “Perfectionist tendencies result
in adults with extremely low self-esteem,” explains Claire.
Nothing is ever good enough.” Children who are stressed
cannot function with calm and do not know how to make
Teacher and mum-of-one Julie McGuire is passionate
about the need for free time and the power of play. Calm,
introspection, play and down-time foster creativity,
initiative and imagination, she says. “These are valuable
life skills,” she says. “We have to get away from the mind-
set that everything has to be about education.”
Yet, the pressure for kids to out-perform remains
incredible. Julie still battles doubt over her decision not
to fill her own daughter’s time with lots of activities.
Over-scheduled students are visibly tired and can be
unenthusiastic learners, but with cramming and extra
tuition, they can achieve high grades. She worries about
Summer 2013