As adults, most strive to get to bed early, but as children there was excitement in staying up past your bedtime. However, in china bedtimes are not set in stone and vary depending on the parent.
March 13, 1996, the clock on the wall strikes 9 pm and I dare not move. My mother sits across the living room from me. It was my tenth birthday, my new remote-control car is neatly placed in the corner and I keep a concerned eye on my pet dinosaur, my pet Tamagotchi dinosaur that is. I feed him some fish and am informed that he feels content. Despite my new car and prehistoric digital companion, the real gift was a 30-minute extension to my bedtime. No longer would I clamber reluctantly up the stairs at 8:30 pm like some deprived Oliver Twist begging for five more minutes of the day. The gradual extension of a curfew throughout childhood is a barometer in which to measure your steady climb to adulthood. The later it became the closer you were to full adulthood.
I visited friends at their homes and sat chatting with them until 11 pm, with their small children staying up with us the whole time.
In England, most children go to bed at a regular time, which blows the final whistle on the day. Toddlers tend to be in bed by 7 pm, a child by 9 pm. In many families, bedtime is set in stone. Imagine my surprise my first year in China when walking home in the late hours of the night and I regularly saw a 3-year-old child out on the street playing with a shuttlecock. I visited friends at their homes and sat chatting with them until 11 pm, with their small children staying up with us the whole time. I asked many of my Chinese friends what time they send their kids to bed and the general response was that they go to sleep whenever their parents go to sleep. The point is that, in China, kids often do not have a set bedtime. I believe part of the reason for this is the noon nap, an almost religious ritual which would cause chaos in Chinese society if it was ever interfered with. Children sleeping for one to two hours at noon often means they don’t feel tired until 10 pm in the evening.
In England napping at noon is reserved for the elderly and not something children will do; therefore, most kids will feel sleepy by late evening. As is the case with my two boys: my youngest is 2-years-old and has a bedtime of 7 pm, my oldest is 6-years-old and is permitted to stay up until the dizzy heights of 8 pm. Once that clock hits 20 hundred hours, it is bedtime, and I negotiate with my kids about as much as George Bush negotiated with terrorists. I believe a bedtime for kids has many benefits, for one it means parents can have a couple hours every evening of peace and quiet before they go to bed. Kids also tend to be healthier and more alert after a full night’s rest. It is also a great bargaining tool with your kids. It’s amazing how well-behaved kids can become for an extra five minutes sitting on the living room carpet playing with their trains.
The day after my tenth birthday, I took great delight in boasting to my friends how I saw what the world looked like at 9 pm, and it was amazing. Nowadays it seems I have gone full circle, where once as a child we would boast of how late we stayed up. Now, as an adult, I often sit in the office bragging on how early I got to sleep the night before, to the jealous sighs of my coworkers. I guess for some of us, we never grow out of a bedtime or a good night sleep.