What is Television Teaching Your Child? The Kids'TV genre is populated by animation - largely violent, male-skewed, promoting stereotypes, dominated by the superheroes culture

By Sashwati Banerjee

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Sashwati Banerjee

Today television (TV) is ubiquitous. This media influences and shapes thinking, cultures and behaviours, defining the norm. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the kids' genre.

A recent survey by ASSOCHAM showed that children are spending approximately five hours a day on average, watching TV. In most Indian households. TV is the new age babysitter, used to keep kids occupied and engaged, eat, and even control tantrums.

But what are your kids watching?

The Kids'TV genre is populated by animation — largely violent, male-skewed, promoting stereotypes, dominated by the superheroes culture. Many parents feel this kind of superhero culture would teach kids the qualities of defending and protecting the weak. However, a recent study by Brigham Young University shows that when children watch superheroes, what they really absorb is how "physical aggression' can be a useful tool in acquiring what one wants, contrary to many parents' beliefs.

In many Indian households, kids are growing up watching sexist soap operas along with their caregivers, which reinforce notions of women as indecisive and inferior.

No Research on Media's Influence on Kids in India

Unfortunately, in India there is no research that looks at the influence media has on kids. Many Public Interest Litigations (PILs) have been filed by consumers to ban the telecast of TV shows like Shinchan and Doraemon, highlighting the adverse psychological impact these shows have on kids. Ashish Chaturvedi, who filed a PIL against these shows, quoted in one of the news stories that, "When I saw a young boy imitating "Nobita Nobi' (the main character of Doraemon) I clapped for him. But, I was completely shocked when his parents said he was badly addicted to the programme and they have not been able to get him out of "Nobita' he was aping. "He keeps asking for gadgets or hoping for a miracle to happen, just like Nobita," Chaturvedi said quoting the child's parents.

Children's Bad Behaviour Attributed to Improper Shows

Parents are increasingly attributing the bad behaviours of their kids to such inappropriate shows. This may not be totally unjustified given that brain development is at its highest peak during the early years. Recent studies from early childhood education experts and neuroscience demonstrates that the most rapid brain development happens in the early years, with 700-1000 new neural connections forming every second. Behaviours that children learn by watching and emulating role models stay with them.

So what we really need to think about today is not whether children should be watching TV, but what should children be watching on TV.

Programmes That Improve Kid's Literacy Skills

Shows like Sesame Street and Blue's Clues have been regularly recognized for attempting to meet children's educational and developmental needs. Findings from more than 1,000 studies that have looked into Sesame Street's impact since its origin in 1969, show that watching the show has improved children's literacy and numeracy skills and their pro-social behaviors like sharing, helping, cooperating, and even understanding gender equality.

Back home, Sesame Street's Indian adaptation: "Galli Galli Sim Sim' is one such show which caters particularly to the needs of children.

Using the power of media and puppets, the show helps the cognitive, pro-social and emotional development of a child. The show is full of child-friendly characters, each of whom challenges stereotypes and exposes children to differences.

Chamki, a 5-year-old girl, represents irrepressible curiosity, boundless ideas and contagious energy. She is a reporter, a karate expert and loves going to school. Her 6-year-old male friend Googly's quiet nature hides a wild and inventive bent of mind. Boombah is an ageless vegetarian lion who adds fun to healthy habits! Through their adventures, children learn what it means to be a good friend, a helpful neighbour, a respectful companion, and an ambitious self.

Awareness Among Parents About Right Content

Today children are living in a digital age of TV, mobiles, tablets, absorbing information — some great and some not so great, from one screen or another. It is important to expose them to shows which render positive role modeling, promote pro-social behaviour.

Parents need to be educated about what kind of content is appropriate for their child, where they can access such content and facilitate and mediate how their child can view the content.

Need for Regulatory Policy

In the absence of a certification board or rating of TV shows, we need policy that looks carefully at regulating kids' shows and what children are learning from them. The content creators share an equal responsibility as they are building thoughts, stories, and dreams in these little brains through their characters.

The influence media and its characters can have is unparalleled. Therefore, it is critical that young viewers are exposed to content which helps them question norms and imbibe the 21st-century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving; skills which will help them grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

Sashwati Banerjee

Managing Director, Sesame Workshop India

As Founding Managing Director of Sesame Workshop India, Banerjee spearheads Galli Galli Sim Sim, a multiplatform initiative that combines the power of media with educational outreach to prepare children for school and life.

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