Dubai: A recent post on a popular UAE online community forum showed a notice at a nursery that asked parents to switch off their smartphones when they come to pick up their children at school.
A telling piece of communication, it was meant to remind parents that they should spend more quality time with their children, somewhat of an irony as the world marked Family Day on May 15.
In the run-up to the big day, fashion retailer Centrepoint also launched an initiative #MakeTimeForFamily, sharing family conversation series on social media, to show different scenarios of parents putting their families first. A social media contest was also organised to encourage fans to share family moments as short videos to win vouchers. Centrepoint’s title video shows how a successful dad, who wins a business award, is too busy for his family and ends up getting a “World’s average dad” trophy from his son. “In the movie of your life, which character would you rather be - best dad, best employee or both?” the campaign pointedly asks.
The initiative followed a survey of over 500 people across the region which found that close to 40 per cent had missed out on a special family occasion due to work obligations. Last year, another Centrepoint survey revealed that 48 per cent of respondents did not get sufficient time with their family.
Quality time spent with children has become such a casualty in modern-day living that blunt notices, rousing campaigns and enticing events have now become necessary to remind busy mums and dads to pay more attention to their little ones. .
As Simon Cooper, head of Centrepoint, said,” It wasn’t always the case where I realised how much I have been consumed by work obligations until I started missing out on important events. Promising my personal time to my family at least once a day is important to develop that quality time with them. I want my children to start balancing their priorities and we at Centrepoint have always encouraged our loyal customers to never take quality time with family for granted and create irreplaceable memories.”
In what has emerged as a harsh new reality, it isn’t just the clichéd demands of the workplace that eat into parents’ time with their families, addiction to smart devices also shares the blame.
“Momma never listens to what I say, she is always sending messages to her friends on the phone,” complained eight-year-old Ria with a stay-at-home mom and a father who keeps long hours at work. The rare occasions when the family goes out for lunch on Fridays, the Dubai girl is on her ipad while her parents are busy with their phones.
Contrast this to the Kanwar’s home where Aditya Singh, 13, winner of the Shaikh Hamadan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Distinguished Academic Performance (2017 and 2014) And Sharjah Award for Excellence in Education (2015) attributes his entire success to his parents, despite his father travelling for most poart of the month.
Singh, who is a good academic, professional TT player, black belt in Karate, eco campaigner, dancer and keyboard player with many public performances to his credit, said, “My parents run an interior design business and my father is out of Dubaitwo-three weeks in a month. But my mother makes up for his absence. She works part-time and is there for me all the time, whether I want to talk about a new campaign idea,juggle between two classes or just chill out. It’s become a balancing act for us to try and steal as much quality time with my fatherby vacationing or going to a park, movie or for dinner whenever possible.”
While most parents do their bit by running school errands and taking the kids out to play or for an outing, what is found to be woefully lacking is their sense of involvement. In a cover story last year, an XPRESS poll found that a shocking 77 per cent of parents in the UAE admit their children said they spend too much time on their smartphones. The poll was conducted following an Indian school teacher’s revelation that the majority of students in her class said the biggest complaint they had against their parents was their pre-occupation with smartphones.
Conscious of the dangerous trend, Emirati entrepreneur and mum of one Jumana Al Darwish came up with the concept of The Happy Box along with her sister-in-law Linda. They designed The Happy Box, an award-winning educational and social product, which aims to spread bring families with children aged three to 11 together. As Jumana explained, “Happiness to me is when I spend quality time with my family, especially my little one Ayla. I opted to introduce a fun and interactive educational product that allows busy and working families to connect with one another and spend quality fun time through art and craft activities. Technology is definitely the future, but sometimes, good old fashioned fun provides us with moments in time that are truly distinct and memorable. Life is all about creating these moments in time, ones that we will cherish forever.”
“Each Happy Box is personalised according to the child’s age and includes eight activities and a book surrounding a specific theme - which changes each month. All the materials required to complete the activities are included - even glue or scissors! - and the instructions are in both English and Arabic,”” she added.
She said, There are many family fun days and events that are organised by malls, hotels and other organisations in the UAE, all aimed at encouragingparents to take time out and bond with their children. For example, City Centre Al Shindaghais running a campaign till May 25 to encourage families to share great moments and win big. But as one organiser noted, “A lot of families come to these events. If only they would leave their phones behind.”