Giving our children the best gift of all

By Zhou Jing
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 6, 2019
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Little Tangyuan (R) and her brother.

On International Children's Day this year, Chinese boxing star Zou Shiming invited an 8-year-old girl to a junior boxing competition in Shanghai. The girl, nicknamed Little Tangyuan, surprised the former WBO flyweight champion with an easy debut victory. 

Even before her trip to Shanghai, Little Tangyuan gained a following of fans when her father uploaded videos showcasing her stunning boxing skills to social media channels earlier this year, earning millions of hits.

Her victory must have served as a wonderful Children's Day gift for the little girl, but based on my experience, she probably valued even more the time spent with her father. 

See, Little Tangyuan's father, a fan of boxing, works away from home and can only talk to his daughter on the phone or by video chat. Only by learning boxing from her father could the girl spend more time talking to him. Little Tangyuan, just like every other child, needs care, company and love from her parents. 

A week before Children's Day, I asked my 6-year-old daughter: What gift do you want? In return, my question was answered with another question: Will you and dad spend the whole day with me?

I was relieved at that moment to be able to give her a positive nod; next time, though, I may not be so lucky. Shortly after, I did the simple math: from Monday to Friday, after subtracting sleep and work hours, I have only 4 hours per day to spend with my child, and 10 hours at most on the weekend days, not to mention that I'm on duty every third weekend and my husband works most Saturdays.

My family's case is not rare in China, particularly in big cities like Beijing. And my daughter's request is a common one asked by many kids. They yearn for more time spent with their parents. 

In December 2017, China's Ping An Life Insurance Group, Southern Weekly magazine and other organizations jointly published a report of how Chinese parents spend their time. According to Xinhua News Agency, the report was the first of its kind, involving 2,000 families with children under the age of 18. 

The results showed that Chinese parents spend 3.7 hours a day on average with their kids on weekdays, and about 9.3 hours a day during the weekend, accounting for 63% and 72% of the parents' personal disposable time, respectively.

I was delighted to find that Chinese parents spend more than half of their disposable time with their children, but then the thought of precisely how parents spend these hours with their children gave me further pause. 

Most Chinese kids over the age of 6 have to spend a certain amount of time each day doing battle with their homework, from mathematics to reading and writing to second language learning. This means that Chinese kids end up using a big part of parent-child time on homework, which does little for the parent-child relationship. 

On May 26 this year, reported that a survey of 27,500 parents from 29 countries showed that Chinese parents spend an average of 7.2 hours per week helping their children with homework, ranking third following Vietnamese parents' 10.2 hours and Indian parents' 12 hours. Meanwhile, in developed countries, far fewer of the surveyed parents spend more than 7 hours per week on their children's homework: 11% in the U.K., 10% in France and just 5% of parents in Finland.

From these numbers we can see that Chinese kids spend at least one hour each day on their homework. In addition, many kids are also obligated to spend time practicing the piano or going to basketball or other sports training. So how many hours are left for children to spend just relaxing with their parents: playing a game, watching a movie, eating a meal together or simply enjoying a conversation? It adds up to less than three hours a day on weekdays and about 8 hours a day on the weekend. What's more, these hours can only be guaranteed when a child lives with his or her parents.

For Little Tangyuan, she is lucky that her father is able to share one hour with her each day over video chat; on the other hand, she is also not so lucky that he and her mother are divorced and he works in another city.

Each year on Children's Day, as on the one just passed, our kids are given toys, sweets, books, parties and other gifts, but what is truly the best present we can give them? Perhaps it's nothing more, or less, than our presence — the parent-child quality time that we share together. 

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