TV isn't that idiotic anymore

Jun 17, 2012, 09:32 IST | Phorum Dalal

When you can't stop them, join them. Parents are no longer resorting to cutting the cable connection or laying down the law in an effort to stop their kids from getting glued to the idiot box. Instead, they're turning reality shows such as Satyameva Jayate and Dance India Dance and even saas-bahu serials into a learning ground of sorts

Nine year-old Haely Khadawala’s eyes are fixed on the television. The camera has zoomed into the face of a teary-eyed participant on a dance reality show for kids. After a full minute, the camera zooms into the audience, stopping at his parents, who are waiting for him to say something with bated breath. He takes the mic and smiles. “I am happy that I learnt so much on this show, and I will focus on finishing my steps in time with the beat.” Haely claps her hands, turns to her father Sunil, and announces, “This is the attitude I will have when I go for my fashion show tomorrow. We lose so that we learn how to improve upon our mistakes.”

Sunil Khadawala watches Discovery Channel with his nine year-old daughter Haely. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Forty-two year-old Sunil is one of the many city parents who are using the idiot box as a medium to educate their children and to help them imbibe good values. “Children are going to watch TV — that cannot be avoided. But it is up to parents to make it into an educational exercise,” says the Byculla resident, who co-owns a food store in CST.  Be it a family show like Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chasma (TMKUC) on Sab TV or an episode of Garbage Mountain on National Geographic that showed how garbage compactors work, Khadawala makes sure he watches it with his daughter, turning it into a bonding session where he subtly discusses topics such as good manners and new technologies.

“In TMKUC, the child protagonist Tappu is a good boy, but often gets into trouble for not listening to his parents. When he gets pulled up for it and is made to undo his wrongdoings, I discuss the importance of respecting elders and taking their advice with Haely,” says Khadawala, who is happy with the response he gets from his daughter. He does, however, hold a grouse against the censor board for allowing adult material to be aired on TV. “Even the serials have gotten bolder. In those cases, we just switch off the television,” he says. Haely also enjoys Indian Idol on Sony TV, where she watches singers from across cities, towns and remote villages come on television to give their dreams a shot. “They work so hard, and sometimes lose in spite of it. It happens. The show gave me the courage to do my best in the fashion show,” she says, quickly adding, timidly, “which I won.”

Good and bad
Television is meant to inspire, but it can work both for and against viewers, says Ashish Golwalkar, head, non-fiction shows, Zee TV. “Tender minds will absorb things fasters than grown-ups, which can work both for and against television. On our shows, Sa Re Ga Ma and Dance India Dance, we show both success and failure stories of participants, which connect with the audience,” says Golwalkar, who believes that TV shows have both pros and cons.
“We cannot say we are doing only good stuff. It also depends on how much viewers allow programmes to affect their minds. Dance India Dance Lil Masters is not just about dancing. Mithun Dada, who is one of the celebrity judges on the show, promotes good eating habits, talks about eating green vegetables and drinking milk, and even asks kids to adopt cleanliness when he tells them to cut their nails,” he says.

Ritu Rathore, a 41 year-old homemaker from Napean Sea Road, watches television programmes such as cookery, news, reality shows with 10 year-old daughter Raina. Pic/Bipin Kokate

India is a young country, with over 60 per cent of the population under the age of 30, says Rahul Johri, senior vice president and general manager, South Asia Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific. “Knowledge is cool. Indian viewers are a curious lot,” he adds. “While parents encourage their children to watch meaningful television, it is observed that the programmes on new discoveries, latest developments in science and technology, topical shows, survival and adventure, etc appeal to the younger generation. Our primary target audience is above 15 years, hence our programmes appeal to these age groups,” says Johri.

Discovery Channel’s programmes like Man Vs Wild, Worst Case Scenario, I Shouldn’t Be Alive, Planet Earth, Death of Bin Laden, Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years, Build It Bigger and Extreme Engineering, are targeted specifically at this age group and have got a good response from them. To expand its audience to those between the age of 4 and 11, the channel also launched a new network this year, Discovery Kids.

Expands the mind
An episode of Satyameva Jayate on Star Plus worked wonders for Ritu Rathore, a 41 year-old homemaker from Napean Sea Road. It helped her 10 year-old daughter Raina understand female foeticide. “After the show, she had a battalion of questions — ‘why are women not important?’ ‘they give birth to children, then why are they treated like this?’ ‘why are boys better?’ and so on. I explained to her that not everyone thinks that way and that illiteracy plays a part in this,”

says Rathore, who was appalled at the figures and cases on the same show during the episode on child abuse. “I realised it was time to let her know about these things. I simplified the information provided and explained it in a way that she would understand,” says Rathore. The exercise has paid off. Last year, Raina knew the correct answer to the Rs 50 lakh question on an episode of Sony Entertainment’s show Kaun Banega Crorepati. “When we watch meaningful things together, I can choose the kind of information she absorbs. I would even let her watch a show on fashion, as it helps her understand colour combinations and what would look good with what, etc,” says Rathore.

Similarly, fashion designer Chaitali Menda allows her children — eight year-old Kyana and six year-old Kahaan — an hour of television during dinner time. “They watch 15 minutes of cartoons, and then move on to National Geographic.”  “Kahaan loves snakes, and after watching a show on flying snakes on National Geographic he came and told me all about it. He was amazed that a particular snake could eat a meal three to four times its size, and that another could make long jumps from water bodies onto trees. He looked through his encyclopedia to know more, and eventually looked it up on the Internet where he could see more videos and read more articles,” says Menda. She adds, “While I believe that too much TV can have an a negative impact on children, it can also expand their mind by providing them with new information.”

Menda also made Kyana watch the last 10 minutes of the Satyameva Jayate episode on child abuse. “When kids watch gory shows unsupervised, it can be really hard to unlearn, but there are a few good shows that work the other way around,” she concludes. Since parents cannot stop children from watching TV, it is up to them to separate the good, the bad and the ugly and use it to their advantage, says Nina Jaipuria, executive vice president and general manager, Nickelodeon and Sonic, sounding a note of caution. “Kids turn on the television for two reasons — either they are bored or they need to shed the stress of academic and parental pressures. When kids end up watching shows because adults in the family are viewing them, it can have a negative impact on them.” 

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