It’s six in the evening and the neighbourhood playground is almost empty. A bunch of kids can be seen on bicycles and a few seem to be trying their hand at cricket. But the swings and the park benches are empty and there are no sounds of laughter or even fighting for that matter. The silence is uncanny.
Strange but true, till some time back, evenings at the playground saw young kids enjoying outdoor activities, shouting, ranting, fighting, playing, running and screaming. Thanks to the school bag’s weight increasing faster than the length of their pigtails, evenings are no longer the same. Tuitions, tests, homework, projects - there’s too much much to do leaving no time to sneak out for some fun.
But that doesn’t mean that kids today are in any way deprived of fun. It’s only that their new source seems to be either the internet or the latest kids show on TV. Yes, evenings are now synonymous with the likes of Disney, Pogo, Jetix and Hungama. It’s strange how a 12 year old might not have heard of ‘Panchatantra’ but can tell you all about Hannah Montana, a show that airs on Disney. With foreign TV channels crowding the idiot box, kids are getting exposed to an almost alien culture that interests them and surely makes them question the obvious differences between them and their western counterparts. We explore how and to what extent do these foreign shows influence growing kids... Their life seems fun!
Hannah Montana, the most popular among the foreign shows on TV (aired by Disney) is about a teenager who is also a pop star. Her double life is entertaining and a matter of envy. “She’s fun. She is a singer and a normal girl also. I wish I could be two things at the same time too”, says Arushi Mehta, all of 12. Probe her a little more and she chuckles, “The best part is that her dad doesn’t say anything to her. She gets away with everything.” Arushi is not the only one. Most Indian kids believe that phirang kids have an easier life with non-interfering parents and a negligible study load. “In Lizzie McGuire and Hannah Montana nobody carries a school bag, they all have lockers and look at us, my shoulder will fall off one day”, cribs Shruti Khanna (13).
The roller coaster doesn’t stop here. A cool cafeteria, no school uniforms, make-up, dating, prom, grade system in exams, slumber parties and pizzas for dinner, it sure seems like a life straight out of Disneyland, or Archies comics for that matter.
“My 12-year-old son asks me why we can’t have pizza for dinner when kids on TV have that only and they never fall sick. I try and reason with him and tell him the difference between India and the western countries and also that it’s only a TV show, but his demands have only been soaring”, says Mansi Arora, Kunal’s mother.
“Cross-cultural exposure will always be there and more so thanks to invasion of foreign networks and the Internet but a lot depends on how the parents guide their kids and supervise their TV viewing”, says Dr Samir Parikh, a clinical psychologist. What with power jobs and both parents working 24x7 kids are left unmonitored most of the times. But according to Dr Parikh it’s not about controlling your children but making them understand the difference between east and west, fact and fiction. Kids ready to have night outs!
Till the time the demand is that of a pizza for dinner, it seems reasonable, but what happens when kids who have not yet stepped in their teens want to have night outs at their friend’s place or a date with the prettiest girl in the grade? “My 11-year-old daughter comes to me one fine day and says she’s packing clothes to go for a slumber party to a friend’s place in the neighbourhood”, says Manisha Dutt, mother of two daughters Ritu (15) and Kanika(11). “I did not even know who her friend was and obviously didn’t allow. But imagine, she thinks she’s ready for night outs. When I asked she said, girls her age on TV are always spending time at each other’s place, so why not her”, adds an exasperated Manisha.
Dr Parikh explains this tendency, “A sense of imitation is always there among growing kids; parents need to be prepared for this. The answer is not in getting annoyed or amazed but in helping the child understand the differences.” He adds, “It’s not the child’s fault at all. They’ll obviously choose from what they have”
It’s all alien out there
Dr Parikh’s opinion that children don’t have much to choose from is not very far from the truth. The Walt Disney Company (India) Pvt. Ltd. has three channels in India which include Disney Channel, Jetix and Hungama TV. All three channels are surviving on acquired Australian, American and British content. Though even the international shows are available in both English and Hindi, there is a clear dearth of indigenous productions.
Disney’s first local show Vicky aur Vetaal is loosely based on the legendry ‘Vikram aur Betaal in a new comic avatar. The Indian show Dhoom machao dhoom is also doing well among the early teens. Dhoom machao dhoom , a story of four young girls in a school band finds itself in the privileged position of being preferred by young teenagers below 15, thanks to its aspirational kick. “Even we have a band in our school in class XI and XII, when I reach that class, I will sing for it. Hope it’ll be as exciting as it seems on TV”, says Shreya (13).
Cartoon Network had been serving international programmes, but the indigenous factor caught on and even they came up with localised content like Akbar and Birbal , Tenali Raman, Sindabad, Ramayan, Mahabharata and Vikram aur Betal . Ask the teens if they like this Indian flavour vis-ŕ-vis the international shows and pat comes the reply, “I love watching Akbar aur Birbal . Birbal is so clever and Tenali Raman is very funny too”, says Kunal (12) but he also adds that he’s almost addicted to Shin Chan on Hungama TV.
Pogo again draws most of its TRP from international shows that are mostly re-runs like Mr Bean . Pogo also attracted kids by showing the Harry Potter movies series. But where is the original Indian content that a young teenager can relate to? What’s the alternative?
“Honestly how can we blame the kids? Look at our Indian TV shows; they are full of violence and vulgarity too, maybe we first ought to improve the scenario back home and then point fingers at foreign shows”, says Dr Parikh. “True they are more exposed to international life with Internet and such shows but giving them an alternative is what we should do. Relieve them from fierce academic competition, push them towards outdoor activities and expose them to entertainment other than TV”, explains Dr Parikh.
In the race for reality shows Indian producers may have overlooked this huge target audience that might be young but is difficult to please. Though foreign TV shows are doing a good job at making them smile, they are tickling their curious little brains a little too much. Maybe good local entertainment is the need of the hour or maybe the solution lies in moving beyond the four walls. What say?