Shin-Chan is an odious little boy who is rude to his mother. Kris is constantly fighting with his evil school principal Kanishka. The language in Oggy and the Cockroaches is terrible. Doraemon’s Nobita is a whiner and loser. Just when I was beginning to despair the future of my three-and-a-half-year old, Discovery Kids has offered Tintin. Add shows like Chota Bheem, Ninja Hattori, Kiteretsu and Gon the Stone Age Boy and somehow I scrape through the 45 minutes of dinner time.
Master Khandekar hates ad breaks, so surfing is routine. If he catches a glimpse of Oggy or Shin-Chan or anything that I don’t want him to watch, I have to freeze. You don’t argue with a toddler when you are trying to feed him. Between nutrition and media choices, I compromise on the latter. So though master Khandekar eats his salad, roti-sabzi and dal, he watches the intellectual equivalent of junk while doing it. For those of you nodding their heads sadly at my parenting here are some truths.
One, there is simply too much media available for children today. This truly complicates life for a parent and for the child who is dazzled and baffled by the options. This is where parental judgement on time spent and the nature of consumption comes in handy. For long I managed to keep junior on a steady diet of 30 minutes of CBeebies, a wonderfully well-done kid’s channel from BBC (not available in India now).
But he soon discovered the wonders of Doraemon and Shin-Chan. Then there is the iPad, the phone, the radio, the laptop and the DVD player. So my ration of 30 minutes has kept creeping up. But there are rules on how much time on each and when. iPad is for the weekends, DVDs on alternate days for 15 minutes and so on and so forth. You won’t believe how many rules I have for his media consumption and how clearly he remembers them.
Two, in spite of the complexity, this is a far better scenario than having nothing. My parents hardly supervised what I read or watched when I was a kid because there was just one newspaper and one TV channel then. So I ended up watching movies meant for grown-ups at an age when I couldn’t understand their meaning. Billy Wilder’s Fedora (1978) haunted me for years. A.J Cronin went totally over my head at 12, but I remember reading all of him.
The point is that every generation has a different context of consumption and a different set of choices. That is the reality of their world and it is different from yours. These days parents think their child should only watch Discovery or National Geographic. That is silly. As long as there isn’t too much violence or rubbish, it is alright. Though, I do wish there were more characters junior could look up to ones that have strength, courage and conviction. There are hardly any on TV.
Besides the lack of good characters, television is also an inflexible media. An iPad, laptop or DVD actually help you customise what, how and when your child watches something. So for instance my dependence on the DVD is pretty high. It is my tool to break the mindlessness of TV. There is Noddy, Thomas and Friends and even Charlie Chaplin and The Sound of Music on some days. He then wants to watch the same things on YouTube.
Then there are books. These have been the cornerstone of my attempt to shape junior’s media choices. These are read to him at breakfast and bedtime and also in school. Unlike the 70’s and 80’s there are now a wonderful array of books available in India. The art, the text, the stories are lovely on most days and brilliant at times. Among foreign authors Eric Carle and Julia Donaldson’s have done some of the best books I have picked up. There are dozens of others in Hindi (from Katha, the National Book Trust among others) and in English.
Books have formed the primary fodder for junior’s mind. All his questioning and initial curiosity for a thing, animal or issue begins from the stories he is read or reads (sees). My belief is that by its very passivity a book encourages a child to be actively engaged with it. Then there are live events and drama workshops among other options. These explain why I have the strength to put up with Shin-Chan and co. So instead of worrying about the lack of choices on TV, go out and explore the huge plethora of options. And choose the combination that suits your child best.
The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik