Sidika: In the 2000s when I was growing up, children weren’t addicted to the television like some are now. What has your experience been with the so-called ‘idiot box’?
Niharika: I have an 8-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. For the first three years, I could restrict my son’s viewing because he was not at school. School brought an outside ‘peer’ into his world. Watching TV came from dialogue at school.
Sidika: In which case, all of them would be watching the same shows?
Niharika: Yes, that used to happen. I was not satisfied with the shows they were watching. Some of them displayed violence, or characters used inappropriate language. Some shows displayed unacceptable behaviour like banging doors and talking rudely to adults. And this behaviour was applauded. When the protagonist of the show behaves in a certain manner, he/she is somewhat heroised. Children imitate what they see. That’s bad television. Eventually I started looking for alternatives and I’ve found some good shows for children on Netflix.
Sidika: Are shows for children violent, like you said?
Niharika: Of course! Take Chhota Bheem for example. It’s a very popular show but Chhota Bheem never sits and resolves a problem by having a conversation. There’s no dialogue. The hero’s bad behaviour is praised on screen and that can confuse the child about right and wrong.
Sidika: Given that you’re a working professional, how do you engage your children then?
Niharika: When my kids were younger, I read a lot of research on how watching TV affects brain development and since then I’ve made a conscious effort to engage my children mindfully. I never use the television as a babysitter. The alternative is to create a healthier environment with more engaging activities like cooking, gardening, painting, music etc. I get people to come home and do workshops with them or to just spend quality time with them. It comes at a cost, but that’s okay…
Sidika: Has television replaced going outdoors to play?
Niharika: Umm… Going outdoors to play is part of a bigger lifestyle problem. When my children were younger, our house was on the main road and it wasn’t safe to send them out alone. They couldn’t cycle on the road or walk to the park themselves because there was so much traffic. If they had to go to the park, I had to be around. If nobody can take them to the park, they’ll play around the house as much as they can, but eventually sit in front of the TV. For over a year now, we’ve been living in a gated colony and my kids have been more outdoors that ever. When other kids are out playing, they’re also with them. Communities have that ecosystem.
Sidika: So then dealing with technology is more a lifestyle choice than anything else, right?
Niharika: Most definitely! See, this generation has been born into a world where everything is on our devices—they see me ordering food on my phone, my husband uses a running app to track his exercise…I don’t remember the last time I asked someone for directions! We’re always on our devices, even for work. Children see that and one can’t expect them to remain unaffected by it. What helps is that we’re living in a space which is pro-children. Going to the park is not an extra effort and that’s why it’s become a part of their life with ease. In that case, why will they be tempted to stay at home and watch TV then?
Author: Sidika Sehgal