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All I Want to Do Is Sleep and Play

"All I want to do is to sleep longer and play longer," said a teenage student here Saturday, International Children's Day, when parents buy gifts for their children and take them to parks to celebrate.

He was not the only one to say this.

To sleep more and to play more were among the most burning desires for 21 percent and 29 percent, respectively, of the 1,792 juvenile students recently surveyed in Shanghai, all aged between 10 and 14.

The survey, conducted by a local children's work committee, found that nearly 60 percent of the respondents sleep less than eight hours a day, 13 percent sleep between six and seven hours and eight percent less than six hours.

These figures are far below the minimum sleeping hours advised by doctors: 10 hours for primary school students, nine for junior highs and eight for senior highs.

Lack of sleep can affect the youngsters' memory, thinking and even physical growth, warned Lin Jianquan, a physician at Shanghai 's Ren'ai Hospital.

The same survey revealed that 20 percent of Shanghai's juvenile students have no time to play, and 80 percent say they badly need more time to relax.

Sixty percent of the children surveyed said they spent all their Saturdays and Sundays doing homework, attending classes or receiving private lessons from tutors. "I don't even have time for sports or housework," said Lu, a first-grader at a Shanghai-based junior high school.

Stress from schoolwork is believed to deprive children of the fun they need.

A primary school principal told Xinhua that most students choose to work long hours after school, though schools are trying to give them fewer assignments.

"We encourage our students to go to bed at 9:00 pm," said Zhang Hongli, principle of Fudan Primary School.

A fifth-grader at Zhang's school, however, has his own worries. "I must work harder," said the boy, a top student in his class, " otherwise I will lag behind my classmates."

"Homework is not a problem," he admitted, "But I have to spend longer hours reviewing what I have learned today and prepare for what will be taught tomorrow."

The boy therefore never goes to bed before 10:00 pm -- and even then he has trouble getting off to sleep.

"When I finish primary school, I hope I can go to the best high school in Shanghai," said the boy, his eyes glowing.

His goal is to be admitted to the high school attached to Shanghai International Studies University, one of the most prestigious schools in Shanghai and one much sought after by his peers.

"Sometimes I simply feel too much stress, because I worry too much," he said in a grown-up tone.

For many children in Shanghai, childhood is no more a haven free of worries about competition. Their elders tend to tell them to be ``sensible and work hard" because "otherwise you will fail in the fierce competition".

High expectations from teachers and parents often make the youngsters nervous and frustrated, which may affect their physical and mental health in the long run, experts warn.

"I'd rather live in the countryside," said a junior high student at one of Shanghai's prestigious schools, "I'd give up McDonald's and Pizza Hut and all the charms of city life to have enough sleep, enough play time and nothing to worry about."

Parents and teachers ignore children's nature by urging them to act like grow-ups, said Bu Wei, a specialist in children's studies.

(People's Daily June 2, 2002)

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