Dyala Kumar Thavaratnam doesn’t want his children to grow up glued to their mobile phones and other devices. Neither does he want them cooped indoors, spending hours on end on social media.
Determined that they become well-rounded individuals, Dyala and his wife Sanjugtha Vigneswaran have made it a point to expose their three children to exercise and physical activity from a very young age. Their efforts seem to have paid off handsomely.
Their three children – Avigna Krish, 18, Dhurjaya Kumar, 12, and Nityatruksha, 10 – love spending time outdoors, whether it is playing cricket or football, going scuba diving or hiking.
“On weekends, we play cricket in our garden or in the field near our home. Even my daughter has shown a lot of interest in cricket and football,” says Dyala, 48, who is an engineer in Kuala Lumpur.
“On other days, we either jog in the park or go for a hike up Bukit Gasing (in Petaling Jaya). I believe that exercise is a really good way to leave work and school behind and just relax and enjoy being with nature and each other.”
His boys also train regularly under local football club, Everton Football Academy. The training, admits Dyala, is intensive and skill-focused but it has helped his sons build their stamina and develop their game.
“Football also requires a lot of strategic thinking and stimulates brain activity. Avigna intends to try out for the Selangor junior team next month,” says Dyala, proudly.
The three young ones also practise taekwondo. Avigna and his siblings’ outdoor activities may seem overwhelming, but Dyala believes that their sporting activities are a necessary respite from their school workload.
“The emphasis on academics can be overwhelming for a child, especially if it’s an examination year. I think that sports is largely neglected in schools and has taken a backseat to academics. I believe that a balance between the two is necessary,” he asserts.
“Furthermore, outdoor activities help build character and I think it has helped them be healthier and happier kids.”
Although it is impossible (and probably ill-advised) in this digital age to keep children away from gadgets, Dyala believes that as a parent, he needs to be mindful about how much time his children spend on their devices.
“There are health risks too. Being sedentary and hooked on devices can affect a child’s physical endurance as well as their posture and eyesight,” he says.
“Add to that all the fast-food and processed food we consume … this kind of lifestyle could easily lead to our children becoming obese and developing other health conditions.”
His concerns are not unfounded. Research from Harvard University reveals that adolescents in the United States who spend long hours on tech devices are 43% more likely to be obese, compared to teens who spend less time on screened devices.
Closer to home, in the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey, 11.8% of children are found to be obese. If left unattended, 1.65 million school children are expected to be obese or overweight by 2025. Time spent together
Apart from the physical benefits of being active, Dyala shares that spending time outdoors has also proven to be an excellent way for the family to bond. During school holidays, the family goes on diving trips together, something which Dyala really enjoys.
“I tend to introduce my children to activities that enable us to bond. I have always had a passion for the sea, and I really wanted to share it with my children,” says Dyala, who goes on four diving trips with his family each year.
“It is on these trips that they open up and talk to me about their dreams and aspirations and also the challenges they face at school. It’s really nice and it makes me understand them better as they grow into young adults.”
Though scuba diving is an expensive sport, Dyala says it is a fulfilling activity as it has also made his brood more aware about and interested in the environment, in particular marine conservation.
“On every dive trip, we pick up trash underwater and participate in beach clean-ups. My children have also become conscious of the effects of single-use plastics and more mindful about reducing their plastic usage as far as possible,” says Dyala.
“This includes bringing their own food containers when they pack food from outside and even carrying their own utensils and straws. They also shop at zero-waste shops.”
His eldest boy Avigna has gone a step further to sign up with Ocean Quest Global (OQG), an environmental organisation that organises marine conservation programmes in Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar.
Avigna’s volunteer work with OQG has fuelled his passion to pursue a degree in marine science.
Fun for everyone
Father-of-two, Malcolm Murphy is another dad who has prioritised sports and outdoor activities for his children, Maya Zara, 13, and Mikhail Ryan, 12. Murphy believes that children must enjoy their childhood and, to him, this means having a good balance of fun, physical activity and academics.
“Education is not just about academics. Sports participation helps children develop good communication skills. Students need to learn how to be resilient and develop inner strength,” says Murphy, a lawyer.
“They must also learn how to mix with others. You learn important life skills like teamwork which will be essential when they go to university or join the workforce.”
Maya admits that she “really enjoys” watching YouTube videos and other social media channels but she doesn’t mind that her “gadget time” is limited because she also enjoys sports. Swimming, she says, has improved her stamina and upper body strength.
“Daddy will scold Mikhail and me if we spend too much time on social media. He constantly reminds us that we need a balance between our school work, sports and our time online. I guess I agree with Daddy,” says Maya.
Murphy reckons that exercise should be fun and not a chore for children and parents. One way to make sure of this is for families to engage in activities that everyone enjoys. As Murphy, Maya and Mikhail all love nature and the outdoors, they spend a lot of time hiking.
“It’s important for children to sweat it out and have fun in the sun. On Sunday mornings, we hike at Bukit Gasing or jog at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya. The reward is they get to choose where to have breakfast,” says Murphy, 54, who also works out with his children at the gym regularly.
Born and raised in Kuching, Sarawak, Murphy shares that he spent most of his growing years in the outdoors. He swam in rivers, and played all sorts of traditional games with his peers.
“Thankfully, my children don’t fuss when it comes to spending time outdoors or exercising. They seem to enjoy hiking, as it enables them to appreciate nature and identify different plant and wildlife species,” says Murphy.
The trio have also gone camping in Taman Negara, Pahang, and Bako National Park in Kuching. “I love going hiking with Daddy and Mikhail. I often use that time to talk to them about school, my studies and my friends,” says Maya, a Form One student.
Murphy, a former Scouts member, also hopes to introduce Mikhail to the scout movement and outward bound school. Maya is already a member of the Girl Guides.
“Being a Scout isn’t merely about learning to tie knots. You learn teamwork, social skills and develop confidence, which are important for children to learn. After all, education really isn’t about only obtaining top scores,” he says.