For the past few weeks, Deki and Dorji in Taba have been taking turns to look after their two young sons. Since the crèche in her office and the daycare closed, their schedules have been turned upside down. At even more desperate times, they have been requesting their relatives to babysit when they could not avail time off work.
For 13-year-old Sonam, he had made a deal with his parents. Once he completed his examinations, he watched television or played mobile games as much as he liked. It is his reward for not watching television during the examination period.
In the two winters, since mobile games picked up momentum in Thimphu and some of the other larger towns, Sonam is not the only one looking forward to a “holiday”, which means playing mobile games for long hours. With almost every youth owning a smartphone or a tab, the games have become their favourite pastime.
But while it must be understood that playing such games for prolonged periods is not a healthy pastime, the real issue is not the phone or television. It is the school holidays and what our student population of more than 150,000 are going to do for two months every winter.
Judging by recent trends we know what most of the students are not going to do. They are not going to return to their villages to help on the farm as the previous generations did, although village life in winter is a leaner season and a time for most annual ceremonies, festivals and other celebrations.
On the contrary, most students and even teachers in the dzongkhag schools plan to visit their relatives who live in the bigger towns. Urban families complain about not being able to accommodate their visitors during the winter holidays.
With the youth population in the towns growing more visible by the year and society becoming more aware of the problem, youth organisations are taking some initiatives to organise healthy recreation for the young people.
Numerous ‘camps’ to learn art, music, sports, etc. are organised in the urban areas but almost all of them charge fees. Only a few are free but the vacancies are limited.
The initiatives by youth organisations and sports associations like the Bhutan Olympic Committee are much in demand. Most parents enrol their children in as many such ‘camps’ as possible to their children away from the devices. It would also be of great benefit if libraries and schools also came out with some ideas for the school holidays. Most importantly, these activities need to be spread around the country.
But, ultimately, the situation calls for some innovative parenting. Although it is true that the pressure on parents has greatly increased, with both partners working in many cases, the shortage of facilities calls for greater creativity. Even as the heavier work hours and social obligations might tempt parents to use the television and electronic gadgets as babysitters, there is a need for all parents to get more involved.
Today’s immediate challenge is to make the school holidays both enjoyable and worthwhile. In the long term, the idea is to give children a wholesome upbringing.