October 03, 2013
Raising Midnight Children

Working parents in urban centers like Jakarta often only have time to see their kids at night and, understandably, are a little easier when it comes to imposing routine to their kids. But our Perth-based contributor ponders whether a lack of routine for kids might be counterproductive for them in the long run.

by Prapti Wn
Issues // Relationship
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A few days ago I saw a message on my husband’s Blackberry―as I don’t have one myself―from my 9-year old niece. My niece’s message was part of a long thread circulating among members of my extended family.

I was surprised that my niece made a comment on the thread as it was hard to imagine her being excited about the topic (news of my cousin’s final exams and university enrolment) so I wasn’t surprised when her message read something like: “What are you guys talking about?” It entered the thread when five of us were discussing whether my 20-something-year-old cousin should work or continue studying.

I admired how my niece so confidently piped up during this basically adult conversation, but that’s actually not the most memorable thing about this the incident. What I do remember is being amazed at how this 9-year-old was messaging at 11.30 p.m. That’s half an hour before midnight! I am not mistaken; I read through the messages the following morning, and saw that shortly after my niece had written her comment, her mother appeared on the scene (or rather, entered the thread) and told her to go to bed because she had school the next day. Yes, her mother messaged her those things.

How could she still be up so late? When my two were 9, they would have to be in bed by 8.30 p.m. at the latest. My concern was that if my niece was still up at 11.30 at night, she would have just 6.5 hours of sleep before getting up for school the next morning. I was puzzled and, of course, itching to be critical of her parents, but I couldn’t do it, because I knew the situation. My niece was up late because her parents do not normally get home from work until late (that is, after 8 p.m.) and she absolutely insists on seeing them before going to bed.

I have always found it difficult to understand how some parents can survive life with kids without some sort of routine. Not just any routine, but one where all parties involved not just survive but thrive. It can be argued that my niece has something of a routine―one which states that going to bed at 8.30 p.m. is optional, after a day of school, dinner in front of the TV, an hour of piano lessons and an hour-and-a-half of math tutoring plus travel times to all these places.




And of course my niece will survive, as will her mother (who doesn’t get home until 8 p.m.) and even her father (who ends the working day at 11 p.m. some days), but will my niece thrive? Will her body get the rest it needs to grow, physically and mentally? And what about routine-less meals: Can it be guaranteed that she is getting good, healthy food thrice daily? What about bath times, homework time, TV or―these days―electronic-gadget viewing and playing times? How is that regulated, and by whom?

There have been countless studies on the importance and benefits of a routine for kids of all ages. Routines instill good habits, provide security, help kids’ self-organization skills, plus it’s good for parents because family life and daily activities can be more easily managed.

Admittedly, it is not always easy maintaining a routine―and of course, it’s always nice to have special treats when routines can go out the window (during weekends, for example)―but the best thing about routines, particularly if they are written, is that they provide parents with something to fall back on when uncertainty arises:

“Please can we watch one more episode/play one more game?”
“No, sweetie, it’s bedtime now. Sorry.” Turn off TV/gadget.
 
About Prapti Wn
Prapti worked as a Jakarta-based journalist in the 1990s before following her heart and ending up in Perth, Western Australia, where she now lives with her husband and two teenage children. She has completed a master’s degree in development studies but is currently pursuing a graduate diploma in education while traveling as much as her credit card will carry her.