by Hoàng Anh
Perhaps the most often asked question among parents at this time of the year is where to take their kids to play or to learn something.
Yes, it is that time of the year. Kids look forward to it, and busy parents are harassed at the very thought of summer vacation. It’s no easy task to find a suitable place for kids to enjoy themselves during this period.
“I really want them to go out and have fun but I don’t know where to take them. There are only a few parks near where we live. Besides walking, there is nothing for them to do so they get bored quickly,” said Hoàng Tùng, a Cầu Giấy District resident.
Tùng is not alone in his quest to find an outdoor place for kids to hang out and play in the capital city. After being cooped up at home for almost the entire school year thanks to the hectic academic schedule, which is a noxious mix of too many mandatory subjects, language and other extra lessons after school, parents are desperate that their kids get a real break, and spend a lot of time outdoors.
“There’s the water park near the West Lake and the arcade centres. But we cannot take the kids there on a regular basis. At this rate, they will end up spending their summer vacation in front of a TV set, which I absolutely don’t want,” Tùng said.
His frustration is understandable. Parents these days belong to a generation whose summer breaks consisted of days spent running on the streets, playing with friends outdoors from sunrise to sunset.
“We used to do all sort of things outdoors: climbing trees, hide-and-seek, hunting for insects and catching birds. Kids these days just don’t do those things anymore. They just want to stay at home and play with an iPad,” said Lê Duy, a father of two.
But the kids are not to blame. Streets are not as safe as they used to be and the neighbourhoods’ community spirit has changed for the worse with the so-called modern lifestyle.
“It was a different time. Our parents didn’t care much what we did outside as long as we came home in time for dinner. They knew that we were safe because there was always some adults nearby keeping an eye on us,” he said.
“Now, there are many dangers out there. Busy traffic, bullying, and even in recent years, kidnapping and child molestors. And the neighbourhood is not as tight as we used to be. Everyone is busy. What can we do?”
There is such a demand for “vacation space” that a thriving mini industry has sprung up, designing and running summer camps with many activities.
Thanh Giang, mother of two boys aged 10 and 12, proudly showed her sons’ photos doing the dishes with their peers at a camp that involves staying with monks in a Buddhist pagoda on the outskirts of Hà Nội.
“Look how much they have grown in just a week. At home, they couldn’t even switch on the washing machine,” she said, “Sending them to that pagoda was a good decision.”
Another activity popular among parents resembles a boot camp where city kids spending weeks under a strict, military schedule that is designed to boost their confidence and equip them with essential life skills.
But that’s only for the city kids with parents who can afford to pay for those activities. Their peers in the countryside are not as lucky. Without facilities they are most likely going to spend their summer in an Internet parlour playing video games.
“My eight-year-old son is addicted to going to the village’s Internet parlour. If he’s not at home you can bet he is there. Even if he doesn’t have money he will still go to watch others play,” said Ngọc Sơn a resident of rural Hoài Đức District west of Hà Nội.
The inside of an Internet room is far from what one will consider an acceptable environment for kids. Teenagers play video games for hours non-stop while smoking and swearing at each other from the top of their lungs.
Things can get even worse.
Every summer, there is a sharp increase in the number of children drowning, especially in rural areas. The lack of organised activities, playgrounds and adults’ supervision are all factors that lead to such tragedies.
Summer is here and millions of children will be out of school soon. And I fear this year will be no different from the last.
There have been numerous discussions in recent years on the absence of play grounds and outdoor activities for Vietnamese children. The country’s rapid urbanisation seems to have sidelined the one thing that really matters: our children’s happiness. — VNS