Occupied v preoccupied: how kids spend their time

Top of the list of arguments between me and my kids these days is time management. My daughter, in particular, seems to have no sense of time and is constantly complaining that she doesn't have enough time to do everything she needs to do. I scold her for spending too much time on her phone, downloading music or uploading pictures to her Instagram.

Yet when I look more closely at myself I find that I'm guilty of the very same thing that I berate her for. Not long ago I was regularly going to bed at 10.30pm, after having done a substantial amount of reading. I would usually finish various paperbacks I had on the go in good time, as well as my regular monthly dose of Vanity Fair.

Nowadays I often find several back issues of that magazine piling up, waiting to be gone through, as well as a mound of books that I "plan" to read, but never actually get around to.

I put the blame on Grey's Anatomy (seasons 1 to 7 which I'm currently watching, back to back), Facebook and my iPad.

I absolutely love that story about the computer programmer in San Francisco who hired someone to monitor him for US$8 an hour, and to slap him each time he checked his FB or other social-network accounts. He realised he was spending precious time catching up with friends via the newsfeeds, Twitter and IG. After each slap, he would go back to the task at hand and he ended up doing a lot more work _ and earning substantially more per hour than what he was paying the slapper.

I don't know about the programmer, but I think the slapper has the best job in the world. She earns more in two hours than the minimum daily wage in Thailand!

I think back to the days before we had any kind of technology that could keep us so continually preoccupied.

When I was a kid, even television viewing was limited to a few hours a day. There were only two channels, 4 and 7, and they would begin broadcasting at 4pm on the dot. One of my favourites in those days was a classical dance programme where dance students from different schools would take turns performing. And Mr Ed. Who remembers the talking horse?

Television was still black-and-white back then and when you turned the set off the image would shrink into one small, ever-diminishing dot of light in the centre of the screen that I would watch, fascinated, until it finally disappeared completely.

The massive old TV in my room had a dust cover that my mother had made from heavy material with a traditional Thai pattern. To pass the time, my sister would sometimes take off this cover and dress me up in it. She'd add a sash and a tiara, apply a bit of my mother's red lipstick, give me an evening bag to hold and, voila!, I was a princess ready for the ball!

I also used to ride my bicycle around a lot in those days, an activity which I continued to enjoy even when I became an undergrad. My legs became so strong that during trips to the seaside at Bang Saen with friends, I was the one tasked with carrying on my bike a pal who hadn't learned how to cycle.

On summer excursions to Hua Hin, we kids would spend our days on the beach, swimming and digging in the sand. In Prachuap Khiri Khan we'd climb up the hill every day, beyond a hill-top temple to the "window", to take pictures of each other, framed by this natural rock formation, using my Brownie camera.

Back home in Bangkok I'd often ask the maids if I could help with the ironing and they'd let me do the handkerchiefs and the table napkins. I'd always hang out in the maids' quarters since it was much more fun there than in the main house.

Another favourite activity, especially if I found myself alone, was to put some goodies in a basket, grab a good book and a pair of binoculars and climb up the takhob tree in our garden where I could sit for hours on end.

Often the tree would be full of ripe berries, pink and so sweet, and I'd try to beat the birds to them.

My mother had taught me how to use our sewing machine _ an old-fashioned one powered by a foot pedal _ so I also used to enjoy running pieces of cloth under the needle, practising getting the long stitches as straight as possible. Eventually I was able to make my own clothes _ well, to a certain extent anyway. I used to sew up skirts for my university uniform, although I wasn't keen enough to make the blouses; that required much more patience than I seemed to possess.

My daughter shows no interest in such things, however. These days she tends to lock herself in her bedroom where she gets so immersed in a virtual, online world that she loses all track of time in the real world outside.

I'm seriously thinking of hiring that slapper.

Usnisa Sukhsvasti is the Features Editor of the Bangkok Post.

About the author

Writer: Usnisa Sukhsvasti
Position: Features Editor