This is not a column. It is pure invective, a diatribe, even a rant if you may. My five-year-old recently requested that I let him watch ten minutes of television in the afternoon. Inexplicably, I complied. So rarely does he get to watch TV that he looked amazed and then kissed both my hands saying, ‘Thank you, thank you.’ I know most parents will think my attitude is extreme but the TV is never switched on in our home and my husband and I often wonder why we continue to subscribe to cable.
But I’m digressing. I scanned through the cartoon channels to find something he would enjoy. I was appalled. Animax channel’s content is violent and aggressive. Disney’s Doremon says, ‘tum buddhu ho’ and the language is disparaging at best. Chota Bheem is constantly beating people up and saying, ‘gadhe, tumhari akal kahan hai.’ I’m pretty sure that Bheem didn’t talk like this and even if he did, he won’t around my kids.
Do these people who write these shows even have children? How is this creative or imaginative programming? Have we become so lazy as a nation of parents that we’d rather plonk our children in front of the TV, because it’s easy? Because it means that for two hours they are off our backs and we can have a little down time?
What’s worse is, if you keep the news or Hindi serial programming on and they are getting constantly exposed to today’s alarmist and hysterical news coverage or mental saas-bahu relationships. Even if they aren’t consciously watching this stuff, they are subconsciously imbibing this sort of degenerate, mind-numbing comment on social relationships.
On the other end of the spectrum is intelligent programming. I know parents who allow their children to watch hours of National Geographic, Animal Planet and Discovery because it’s educational. Sure it is, but not at the cost of a child developing poor attention span (which all the research shows us it does), being physically inactive, not building social or motor skills and being an inhibitor to imagination.
I, like most of you, grew up in an India without cable television and consequently, spent most of my childhood (when we weren’t eating, sleeping or doing homework) playing sports, reading voraciously, painting, cycling, playing chor-police and pithu. Don’t we want our kids to grow up the same way? I know I do.
It’s tragic that we think it’s okay that our children can gyrate to Munni badnam hui and Sheila ki jawaani, and mouth all the lyrics of these songs. And not only do we allow them to watch this but ridiculously, we clap and encourage them to perform these steps for us. They have their entire adulthood to be vulgar, let’s at least jealously guard their childhoods. Somehow it is now cute to raise a nation of precocious children who’ve completely lost their innocence by eight.
I know it’s hard to constantly entertain children, especially in the nuclear family set up, but teaching them to paint, do creative projects at home, cultivate hobbies, play board games or puzzles, turn on music for them constantly (even if they are six months old), cycle, swim, skate... even dream. This builds strength, creativity and imagination. When I’m extremely busy, I set my son up on his little table with his paint box and art book and ask him to paint. If I have even 20 minutes to spare, I ask him to pick a favourite book and we cuddle up together and read. Read often to them, with them and encourage them to choose books over toys. By making them readers you’re giving them a gift that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Steven Spielberg once famously said that he doesn’t allow his children to watch much TV or get on the computer because he attributes his own imagination and creativity to the fact that he never did. So if one of the most inventive people on the planet (from whose fecund brain came creative milestones like ET, Indiana Jones, Jurrasic Park and Shindler’s List), thinks our kids are better off without TV, trust me, I’m not arguing. That TV is staying off.
From working for Newsweek in New York to writing for DNA in Mumbai, writer and editor, Rukhmini Punoose’s current full-time employers are her 4-year-old son and baby daughter