“Some parents come to me at their wits end, and I completely understand. There is nothing scarier than parenthood.”

Back in the ‘90s, when I was still a young child in primary school, I loved playing block catching, country erasers, and Pokemon cards. As both my parents were working, I spent most of my time with my elderly grandmother, who took on the onerous role of taking care of me once I came home from school.

These days, children, some of whom are as young as three years old, who were born at the turn of the century, otherwise known as millennium babies,  are playing with iPads, iPhones and Xbox. They also spend less time than ever with their parents, with more taking on dual income jobs.

Enter after-school care centres.

These care centres, based in the school, are run by third parties, such as voluntary welfare organisations or commercial operators such as Pro-Teach, Mercu and Nascans. They offer meals, supervision of homework, both outdoor and indoor activities for the children and tutoring- all at a price about $250 monthly, before subsidies.

For parents, these centres seem like a one stop solution to all their problems. Those who are both working finally have an alternative to troubling their elderly in-laws to take care of their young and active child, and at the same time, have someone to keep a watchful eye on them so that they would not be on their electronic devices all the time. As for the children, they get to spend more time with their friends, play games and even get help with their homework.

It seems like a win-win solution for all. But is it? With the enrolment of children at these centres, their time spent in school have increased to close to 11 hours each weekday, with some even coming back during the weekends and holidays.

Life lessons cannot be learnt in controlled settings

While it is true that these centres do provide opportunities for outdoor activity, they are typically restricted to only about an hour’s worth of outdoor play. The rest of the time is spent doing homework and revision.

Although my childhood was not perfect by any means, I enjoyed having control over my time to do the things I like, be it reading, battling LEGO monsters against each other or even kicking around a ball with friends after school. At an after-school care centre, the child’s time is dictated by others, and he is not at liberty to do as he pleases.

Looking back at my childhood now, I realize that most of my life lessons came from outside the classroom, and not in it. I could never have learnt the dangers of being stuck in a lift during a game of block catching should I be under constant supervision all the time. Nor could I have learnt the importance of saving money if I had all my meals provided for me in a communal setting, instead of being able to decide for myself if I wanted lunch for the day, or to buy a new country eraser or packet of Pokemon cards.

Parents, take back the ownership of your children

Even with the advent of these centres, it is important to remember that the job of parenting still lies with- you guessed it, the parents. However, it seems that it is not the case with parents these days. In a survey conducted earlier this year by Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, 74 per cent of the 250 parents polled said that they spent only three to four hours on a typical day with their children, with work being the major excuse.

More than 95 per cent of them also regret spending too much time working during their children’s formative years.

Lovekid, a full time working mother of three sons aged 3, 8 and 12 commented in the Kiasuparents forum about her experience in enrolling her eldest son in a before-and-after school care centre located beside his school. Something that she said struck me as very profound, and one that parents of this day and age should keep in mind:

“We as parents still need to look after and take care of our children’s school work. We can’t just dump to (the) BASC. It’s our responsibility. Spending time with children and going through their school work is quality time spent with them too.”

Despite the fact that it may seem easy and convenient to simply leave the job of parenting to the after-school care centres, it is important for parents to remember that while work is important to support the family, what is equally as important, or even more so, is to ensure that your child grows up to have a happy childhood, with the knowledge that his family is with him at every step of the way.

Are you a parent? Do you leave your child in daycare? Let us know your thoughts on how effective after-school daycare is on the comments section below.