Reality shows not good for kids

Reality shows affect children in many ways, making them more violent and manipulative

Even in this age of Netflix, YouTube and social media, the television still remains the primary mode of entertainment for the average Indian family, though the content has changed drastically over the years.

Reality shows, that have been ruling the roost for some years now, are banking on shock value to grab eyeballs and sustain/increase their viewership. And their viewership constitutes an unwitting child audience. 

While there is not much that can be done about adults who voluntarily choose to watch such shows, a point of concern is the effect they have on children.

How does it affect them?
“As they are in a stage of development where they are emotionally vulnerable and not fully equipped to understand some of the things shown, there are chances of them getting misled,” says Deepika Nambiar, clinical psychologist, Abhayahasta multispeciality hospital.

“They can feel that the way the individuals on these programmes behave is the conduct considered to be cool, thereby giving rise to acts of aggression, lying, unhealthy competitiveness and more. They also start feeling that things such as wealth, beauty and popularity as the most important sources to happiness,” she adds.

It has been argued that children don’t have the maturity to differentiate between reel and real. So shows in which participants do extreme stunts as part of their ‘tasks’ may provoke children to emulate them in real life. Some children who are constantly watching aggressive situations in shows, might try to use violence as a means to settle tussles and arguments. 

Reality shows like Bigg Boss, Splitsvilla and Roadies
They are different from talent-based reality shows in that you hardly need any talent to get into these. Most of these shows follow a similar stagnant format, including participants abusing or badmouthing each other, fake sensationalizing, ego problems between contestants and judges, a romantic relationship (which usually doesn’t last much after the show ends) as well as a lot of politics and crying. 

“A lot of parents watch these and children are automatically part of the viewing,” says Jaseena Backer, parenting consulting and mother. “The programmes are aired at a time when children should ideally be in bed but you see that children know the characters in these programmes, even their dialogues. I keep wondering what shows like these contribute to your life? Why would you watch a couple of people fighting on television; there are already enough fights in real life. But sadly, the viewership is going up every year,” she rues.

Talent hunts
Jaseena enjoys watching singing reality shows as she feels they bring out a skill the child already had. “Dance shows are okay only to a certain extent, but many parents of the participants forget the fact that the concepts and costumes used in performances are very compromising. You see small girls dancing to songs like ‘Shiela ki Jawani’ and that’s really sad.”

She feels that there should be restrictions on songs young participants can choose in such programmes as well as the dresses they can wear. “They get a totally different image of dance as an art form. In a society where some of us are trying to portray women in a more respectful manner, these kinds of shows tear apart the premise,” she adds, pointing out that reality shows which talk about enhancing beauty are among some of the most harmful programmes for children. 

What can parents do?
“Parents should be little vigilant about the content of the reality show they are watching and should make sure that if the content is not suitable for the child they should refrain from watching it in front of their kids. Also they should make their children understand that reality shows are not fully real but a lot is decided and planned to increase the viewership and ratings,” says Deepika.
 

Children’s show pulled off air due to inappropriate content
Jaseena particularly remembers a Malayalam children’s show, ‘Kutti Pattalam’ that was aired on the channel Surya TV, part of the Sun TV network. The telecast was stopped in August 2016, after the Kerala State Commission for Child Rights pulled them up for inappropriate content.

The show, which had been telecast since 2012, had children between the ages of 2 and 5 as participants. The cringeworthy humour showcased had to be seen to be believed. For example, in one of the shows, a second standard girl answers that she had come to the show “to get married”, no doubt repeating what her parents taught her.

The anchor goes on to ask the girl about her preferences for selecting a groom and asks her to pick one from the audience. The child obediently points to a man from the crowd. The crowd laughs in appreciation. Jaseena recalls the anchor asking another participant, a four-year-old girl, if her mother checked her father’s phone. When the girl replies in the affirmative, she is asked if her dad’s girlfriend call at night? She answers that there is one particular aunty who calls only at night and her parents fight over that.

“My daughter, who was only five years old at that time, would watch acts like these and laugh. I told her not to watch it but struggled to explain why it was wrong,” recalls Jaseena.

Fiery fights anyone?
Voot, a streaming service, has a section titled ‘Fiery fights’ under the Bigg Boss category. The content is not hard to imagine.

Teen paralysed after judge’s rebuke
Shinjini Sengupta, a student of a reputed school in Kolkata and a talented dancer who had even acted in tele-serials and films, was publicly chided by a judge in a reality show of which she was a participant. She slipped into depression, lost her speech and finally even the use of her limbs. She was flown to Nimhans for treatment and she recovered soon after.

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Reality shows not good for kids

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