Xiao Yi (pseudonym) from a well-off family in an east China's provincial capital seems to have everything that children of her age desire, but she appears autistic and ill-tempered. When at home, the seven-year-old often quarrels with her parents. She has even run away from home a couple of times. "This is a result of her childhood experience," said her mother regretfully, in Hefei, capital of Anhui Province.
Xiao Yi's parents, both born in the late 1970s, are white collars busy with their work. Thus the girl was brought up by her nanny, who became the closest person to her. Her parents changed her nanny when Xiao Yi was four, but she refused to talk to the new nannies. After she went to school, she slept at a tutor's home on weekdays.
"I feel as if I am 'farmed out' by my parents. I go to my tutor's place after school, studying, eating and lodging there. I return home only on weekends," she recalled.
Although having her own tutor, she does very poorly in her studies.
Xiao Yi is just one of a large number of "left-behind" kids in urban China. Most of their parents born in the 1970s and 1980s are white collars who don't have enough time to take care of their children.
Left-behind children in rural areas have been in the spotlight for years as their parents work in cities often several thousand kilometers from home. Many of them have education and psychological problems and are vulnerable to crimes.
Unlike their peers in rural areas, they can meet their parents every day or on weekends. But in essence, they both lack concern and caring from parents, said Wang Kaiyu, sociologist in Anhui.
Xiao Dan (pseudonym) is another victim of the rising social problem. The six-year-old girl lives with her grandparents for most of the time because her dad and mom are busy with their work at a media agency in Hefei.
"I can take back home my daughter only once in a while when I don't have to work overtime on weekends," said mother Yang Dan (pseudonym). "In the six years of my daughter's life I spend so little time with her that I start to worry about it now."
Yang's experience isn't unique.
"Many of my colleagues also leave their children with nannies or grandparents as they still enjoy the past DINK (double income, no kids) life," she said.
In the past, Chinese young couples tended to live with the parents of the husband. Therefore the grandparents took care of the kids in daytime while the parents stayed with them at night. But now, she notes, young couples and their parents often live in separate homes. Therefore, they have to send their kids to grandparents and pick them up only once a week.
The increasing need for parenting care has led to parenting clubs in some residential communities, providing new alternatives for nannies, grandparents and tutors. But none of the options could substitute parents' care and love, experts said.
"The bad effect of shifting parenting care to nannies, teachers or grandparents will not show in the short term, but such an abnormal growing experience is a time bomb for family relations and children's characters," Wang Kaiyu said.
Yin Jianli, education expert and author of the book "Good Mother Outweighs Good Teacher", blamed the problem for conception changes in the young and often non-traditional couples.
"Unlike in the past when women were supposed to take care of the family, nowadays more and more women pursue career success," Yin said.
Most parents overlook the importance of spending more time with their children, she noted.
"However, it is very important not to leave your kids behind," she said.
Yin has tips for busy parents who live separately from their children: listen to children; bring them to workplaces when possible; try not to work overtime; have breakfast with them and give them a hug before they go to school.
"Otherwise, they might become new members of the often troublesome 'left-behind' children," Yin warned.