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Better Safe Than Sorry?

There are all kinds of predators on the internet. Violence shown on TV and in video games has been known to influence behavioural changes among children. Yet, not all parents hasten to ban TV and gaming from their homes. But is it alright to allow unsupervised watching of TV and surfing of the internet?

Many present day parents, teachers and elders seem to feel that TV, Computers, films and media have become part of the norm. It is felt that children and teenagers are mesmerised into passive consumers. Is this true? Should parents react to the degradation of ‘values’ by blaming all of them - school, peers, TV, movies, computers - and never look into themselves for what is happening to their children?

Those were the days when we as youngsters were not taught values. We just imbibed it from our elders. Fortunately or unfortunately we neither had TV sets, computers nor mobile phones. We only had the radio to listen to and films to watch in theatres. Entertainment was only seen and enjoyed as a temporary fantasy. Just an escape from reality; but in the present scene all the above have become the accepted mainstay. Though they do have some influence on the younger generation it is not always true that they are the prime factors of distraction as many want to believe. Much depends on parents who can be powerful role-models thwarting temptations without saying it to them in so many words. The more you preach the more adamant they become.
Though I belong to the pre-television and pre-computer age, my parents never imposed any restrictions on us as regards to what we should listen (radio) or read. We saw a number of English movies with our parents and had access to many foreign journals and magazines. I do not remember my parents chastising us for reading them nor did they lecture to us about the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ of them.

We were always told that ‘western culture’ was different from ours and that’s the way they were. It had never bothered us and we never identified ourselves with what we read or saw. To us they were different and they were entertaining. Period!

Bad Words

First, what are ‘bad words’? Children take delight in learning new words and they are on a roll linguistically. If they listen to ‘filthy’ and ‘bad’ words spoken at home, often by their own family, they cannot resist using them. It is not always right to blame the school and peers, fly off the handle and turn all shades of red and blue each time they hear their child using foul language. First, they should check their own vocabulary while speaking to others. Authoritarian parenting seldom works. It may sound like blasphemy to some, but that is the truth.

Dr Kevin Leman, a well known psychologist has said “God’s plan is for mutual respect and consideration: children honouring parents in their turn honouring their children in return is the best way to parenting.”

Just like how babies vary in their ability to wean themselves from the breast to the bottle and later to the cup, they vary in weaning themselves from many childhood attachments.

They also vary in the way they behave. Much depends on the availability of substitutes. It is at this crucial time that parents should introduce them to right substitutes. Books, bat and ball, games, puzzles, cross-words and scrabble, which are suitable to their ages, are perhaps the best substitutes. Parents’ involvement with these things with the children makes it a wholesome entertainment and they will never crave for other addictable variants through TV, Computer and movies.

Playing outside with friends should be an enjoyable experience for children. It is not correct to say: “Don’t bother me. Go out and play.” The child may walk away but deep inside her psyche something tells her that the mother is wanting her to go out and play so that she is not ‘bothered by me’.  They are very quick to take cues from such statements and parents better watch out!

Story telling is perhaps one of the best ways to keep any child engaged. It should not just be a school programme. Personally, I feel that ‘myths’ are symbolic and that is one of the reasons why children love them. Though the symbolism is not explicit, its subtlety is what appeals to young minds. The significance need not be explained in so many words, it generally gets across without any explanation. Explanation of morals and values spoils it. Psychologists agree that the child’s listening to such tales is therapeutically helpful to them in learning to adjust to adult realities and eggs them on to what the psychologists call ‘Imagineering’!

Creativity is not something that is mystical, magical or beyond the comprehension of children. Reading stories, listening to them and as they grow a little older, even writing them will nurture and exercise the creative abilities in them. George Bernard Shah believed that “imagination was the beginning of creation”.

The Present Day Problem

The present day problem is that parents are unable to spend a lot of time with their children due to various reasons. It is either due to both parents working long hours outside home and also staying in nuclear families. This, to a large extent is the reason for children getting addicted to TV, Computers, movies and peer influences. It is necessary to achieve some kind of balance between work and staying home with children at least during their vacation and just being with them, instead of packing them away for various classes during their vacation.

Srijaya Char

My friend’s daughter, Shruti, is a bright, talented and inquisitive thirteen-year-old. Like all other youngsters, she enjoys watching TV and likes to spend time browsing on the internet. This, her mother Kanchan tells me, has led to at least two disturbing developments. Entranced by the lively dances shown on TV, Shruti dropped out of Bharatanatyam classes and is now training in ‘Salsa’. Also the time devoted to the internet has meant that she spends less time reading books. Shruti dismisses these accusations with typical teenage annoyance and disregard. She asserts that her mother nags her too much. She claims that Bharatanatyam is both demanding and outdated, while Salsa is fun and popular. And had not TV helped her improve her Hindi in record time? The internet, she argued, helped her get news, views and information at the click of a mouse. It was in fact a global, up-to-the-minute newspaper. Could anything be wrong with that?

The situation that Kanchan and Shruti find themselves in is typical of many homes not merely in our country but the world as well. We, parents and teachers, must face it; TV and Internet are here to stay. Having these facilities in the home and asking our children not to use them is like leaving the doors to our house open and not expecting outsiders to enter!

The question that faces us then is not one of allowing access to TV and internet; it is one of deciding what and how much should be permitted. The chief concern of course is the influence of so much violence, crime and sex. Let us tackle violence first.

One argument is that violence on screen may breed violence in the mind. From playing with bows and arrows and causing severe injury as a result of watching Ramayan, to committing murder after viewing ‘Scream’, TV has been blamed for inciting violence in the young. People worry that children will not only become desensitised to suffering but start believing that violence is acceptable. Some could even identify themselves with violent characters on the screen. They may try to solve their own problems in a similar violent way. There is the addiction angle too. The excitement experienced may have them asking for more. On the other hand, it must be admitted that children have always enjoyed sword-fights and gun-fights with ‘pretend’ weapons. The violence we see on TV today, we read in books in the past. Many fairy tales are every bit as cruel and full of violence, but it did not make many of us take to violent ways.

What then is the sensible attitude to take? While children should not be allowed to watch ultra-violent scenes for too long, a little bit now and then will not turn them into killers. It is for parents to keep track of what children watch, spell out ideals and, most importantly, set an example. If children know the standards they are expected to have, they will live up to them.

Apart from violence, there is the question of sex. It is a topic that arouses great curiosity and interest in children and is dealt with in movies and the internet with freedom and sometimes a lack of discretion.

Facts of life

All children seek knowledge about the facts of life. Children of today know more than those of even a generation ago. Their ideas are picked up from siblings, friends and of course the media. They search privately for revealing matter and draw conclusions from this. At this stage pornography can exert a fatal attraction and hook them. The wise and loving parent will be aware of this and take care to explain the facts of life, all the time adjusting the information to the child’s readiness to receive it. By now, he will have heard the biological truth from his teacher as well. This will counter any temptations that corrupting influences in the media may have.

There are some steps that parents can adopt to shield their children from harmful viewing. Make rules and set a limit to the time spent on TV and internet. Make sure that the child spends time doing other things like reading and playing with friends. Make it a point to spend time with him and take an interest in his activities. Inspect his school books and keep in touch with his teachers. If you find your child secretive and inclined to be alone, find out why. Above all, if you find anything that is objectionable on TV or the internet, form a group and complain. It could well bring about the change you want

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