With all kinds of content being aired by the media, it becomes important for parents to keep a tab on what their child is watching.
By Aparna Rao
It was quite apparent that Rupali, a preschool teacher, was feeling stressed while speaking about one of her students Parthiv. The reason for her unease was what Parthiv had said during the previous circle time – a session that encourages students to participate in a pre-decided activity. All the students looked forward to circle time as they enjoyed it immensely. In the previous circle time, it was decided that the students would speak about their favourite cartoon characters. While all the students spoke about their favourite character, Parthiv spoke about something very different. He began recounting what he saw in the previous night’s episode of a TV serial. Parthiv described in detail a lady being beaten, gagged and thrown into the back of a car. Parthiv’s narration was such that the entire class listened to him with rapt attention. However, what Parthiv said left a few of his classmates as well as his teacher disturbed. But, what unsettled the teacher the most was that Parthiv wasn’t the only child who had watched this particular episode of the TV serial, there were some other children as well.
The change in family structure and value system has made it difficult for most working parents to keep their children engaged. To overcome this problem, a lot of parents allow their children to watch cartoon shows or serials on TV or play video games. However, most parents rarely pay attention to, and some even ignore, the quality of content their children are exposed to and its impact on the young minds. While allowing children to watch TV shows or play with gadgets does help at certain times, unsupervised and unchecked access to them can result in children getting addicted.
“When a visual content that affects the emotional state of the brain is watched with full attention, the brain perceives it to be real. This is especially true for children. The ability to discern between reality and fiction fully develops only between the ages of 8 and 12 years. Exposing children to visual content without setting any time limit or without checking the appropriateness of content can lead to a range of problems such as poor academic performance, lack of social skills, empathy and aggression. Children by nature imitate adults – when adults are glued in front of the TV or are constantly checking phones, we can hardly blame the children,” says Dr Gopi, Consultant Psychologist, Ahana Hospital.
Although the debate is still on about the relationship between violent media content and aggression in children, one cannot miss the way children physically respond to such content. A lot of young children watching violent content tend to get startled easily or have nightmares or indulge in bedwetting. Older children experience increased heart rates and feel an adrenaline rush.
The nature of cartoon shows and animated serials has changed a lot in the past decade, with many notable positive changes such as increased incorporation of traditional Indian cultural values. However, there still remain areas of concern that need to be discussed and deliberated upon to bring both parents and content creators on the same page. For instance, the concept of superheroes saving the day is still the theme of most popular cartoon serials. While the art of storytelling does give a certain degree of creative liberty to content creators, can little children differentiate reality from imagination? Also, no programme shows any age recommendation for viewers.
“In my perspective, when it comes to entertainment, the story is very important. Yes, there are viewers of all ages who would love to watch something larger than life that breaks away from monotony. However, there must be a balance in the way content is presented, so that the entertainment value does not undermine the story,” says Vijay, film director.
Even if we ignore the lack of logic in programmes meant for children, we cannot overlook the fact that quite a few programmes feature bullying, physical violence and bad language. With continuous exposure to such content, the risk of children becoming desensitised to violence and suffering is high. For instance, a child could be aware of the fact that a cartoon character is a figment of imagination, but he may be oblivious to the pain felt by a victim of bullying. Or, during a conflict, instead of reporting the incident to an adult, a child may resort to voicing insults or physical aggression. Parents should remember that influence of bad content on a child may not always be obvious but gets registered in his consciousness. For example, a child watching the protagonist eating ladoos and gaining strength may insist on eating more ladoos, thinking that it will make him strong as well.
“The law of cinematography is common to all theatrical and television exhibits, but TV programmes come under self-censorship. What is appropriate and what is not appropriate for children is a very subjective matter that will change from one set of parents to another. Technology, in the form of TV, computer or tabs are introduced to children so that they don’t get left behind; but, if this is affecting them negatively, then parents can always choose to limit or avoid such content by locking or unsubscribing to a particular channel or by cutting down screen time. In this case, the best practices should start from home,” says Mr M Mathialagan, Regional Officer, CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification), Chennai.
Rules for responsibly using technology
It is natural for children to emulate adults around them. Therefore, the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ adage should be understood and practised at home. It is up to parents to decide how much is too much when it comes to allowing children access to content on TV or the Internet. From a time when children’s programmes were aired for just one hour on Sundays to having several 24-hour channels, the entertainment industry has come a long way. While the progress in technology has benefitted us in many ways, it is hard to ignore the fact that children of the present generation may be missing out on the fun and joy of outdoor games and group play.
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