Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (June 2, 2016)
We all know the importance of having a balanced diet and how it affects our health. Children learn about the food pyramid at school and how it’s important to eat carbohydrates to give us energy, proteins and vegetables to give us vitamins and minerals, dairy to give us calcium and how we should cut down on sugar and sweets. Some people choose to go on fad diets that cut out certain food groups but generally it’s accepted that we should have a balanced diet for the benefit of our health.
In the same way, children should have a ‘balanced diet’ in their time. In the same way that an imbalanced food diet affects our health negatively, an imbalanced time diet also affects health. But more than that, it can affect emotions, relationships, academic output and much more.
Some important components that I think every person should have in their ‘time diet’ are sleep, eating and drinking, social activities, personal time, exercise, work time and free time. And the proportion of time for each of those activities will change with age. For example, a baby will have more sleep time than work time but as we grow into adults, work time may end up being longer than sleep time. Proportion of time for these activities may also change with seasons in life. For example, a person taking a gap year may be spending more time in social activities than someone who is in college. So the pyramid looks different for each person according to age, life stage and personal choices.
However, as a general guideline, I would say that a healthy ‘time’ pyramid would look something like the diagram below for a child in Primary School. Sleep is essential in the development of the brain, in replenishing lost energy and for general well-being of health and should therefore take up most hours in a day. Work time I would define as time spent at school and homework done at home. Social time would include time with friends and family, perhaps attending activities with others and conversing with others. Eating and exercise is essential to good health and a good portion of time should be dedicated to it. I think free time is also important in giving a child personal time and the chance to play and develop creativity. And the last part of the pyramid is screen time and I would define that as including playing video games, communicating using technology and watching TV. I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with those things as long as they are done in moderation and with self-control.
It saddens me when I see children falling asleep in class at school because they are so tired from working and not spending enough time sleeping at night. As with any part of our lives, we have to see whether we are being good role models to our children. I was recently having dinner at a restaurant where the father spent the entire meal looking at his phone as he was playing a card game. Subsequently, his son, who was sitting opposite him spent the entire time on his phone as well. Precious family bonding time and eating time was turned into screen time. As adults, we have to ask ourselves how healthy our ‘time pyramid’ is and to evaluate what is healthy for our children.
I hope that our children would not only have a healthy, balanced food diet but also a healthy, balanced time diet that best facilitates their development and growth.