Is your kid watching too much TV?

Television viewing among children in India is growing strong, a fact that underlines the ambitious plans by several broadcasters to launch kids' channels this year. But it is not just children's channels that the young latch on to. As kids' viewing habits go from bad to worse, talks to experts and parents to check if a middle path can be chosen.

"Our Bablu doesn't eat food unless we switch on MTV," wails Bablu's mother. "Tina watches television all day. I think I am going to cut off the cable connection next year," complains Tina's mother.

Parents complain daily about the growing impact of TV on their children.

Kids wake up to TV flashing news, come home from school to watch Jerry bashing up Tom or check out another child thrusting his pelvis in a kids' talent show. More often then not, the kids eat and sleep to saas and bahu spewing venom on TV.

With long hours at school, tuition's and ever increasing loads of homework threatening to take over a child's life, TV is the only recreational activity available and accessible to child. So if a kid is watching more TV than he ideally should, whose fault is it? Lets take a look at the guilty corner...

The parents:

How many times do you come home and reach for the remote? How many times do you switch on the TV so that your child leaves you alone or doesn't make a fuss while eating.

Swati Salunkhe, director of Growth Centre, which specialises in psychological counseling of young children, says, "Working parents don't have enough time to interact with their children. When both husband and wife come tired and late, who will have the patience to read out a story or play Scrabble? Most families can't even afford to enroll their children for swimming, tennis or karate classes or take them bowling."

Even as they complain about television, parents themselves are completely addicted to it. "Parents are so engrossed in watching TV that they don't even think what kind of affect a soap opera might have on a child's mind. And anyway, its is not as if the child learns to switch on the TV set while he is in his mothers womb. Obviously, the parents teach the kid," comments Salunkhe.

Salunkhe laments that divorces, marriages, love affairs and extramarital affairs shown so frequently at prime family viewing time have made children casual about human relations. Religious channels can increase bias about certain communities. Soaps about black magic, obsessive and compulsive disorders makes them believe that these things are normal. Most of the characters try to get what they want either by hook or crook and that's the moral the kids imbibe. Too much exposure to bomb blasts, terrorist attacks, cartoons beating up each other, has also desensitized them to violence and aggression.

"Coupled with parent negligence, exposure to such programmes can be detrimental to a child's personality. Children's entertainment too is mainly based fantasy or magic based. While the children's programmes in the past like Vikram Aur Vetaal, Dada Dadi Ki Kahani and Potli Baba Ki, had a fantasy element, they did imparted some learning. Unfortunately such programmes are no longer made. If not juvenile programmes, children have to make do with entertainment meant for adults. What we lack seriously is healthy entertainment for children," Salunkhe surmises.

The channels

Lack of meaningful programming aside, the ill effects of television has on the kids health that parents need to take into account.

While poor eyesight and obesity are some of the problems that children these days suffer because of TV, longer exposure to cathode rays from TV also is supposed to affect the right brain.

Since an average Indian child watches TV for at least two hours a day, it leaves very little time to do creative or interactive work.

Kids product aside, even the ads for adult brands now target the kids. The young minds often fail to understand the true value of the products. It is because of such misleading ads that skimpy tops, trendy clothes, ultra slim physique has become a necessity.

TV has made most children smarter but not necessarily intelligent. For example, they can SMS but they don't know the logic behind it.

Children these days have extremely small attention spans. Since television commercial breaks occur every 12 minutes, research shows that they can't concentrate beyond 12-15 minutes on an average.

One cannot expect the television to shoulder the responsibility as it is a commercial medium and will continue to function as long as the method is effective. The onus lies completely on the parents. If the consumption stops even the production will too.

So what can the parent do? Cutting off the cable connection is not the solution. In fact, it will only make the child feel inferior to others. He might feel left out from discussions about TV and make him feel more curious about TV programmes.

Here is what experts recommend:

Parents can make television time a learning experience by asking them to enumerate the ads shown during the last commercial break.

Kids should be given small tasks like drawing so that they don't just stare at the television. Parents have to have a hawks eye over what the kid is watching. If a kid is watching an offensive music video, don't just ask him to switch channels. Tell him why he has to switch the channel.

Don't just tell him that television is not good for him. Ask him to explain what he thinks is great about watching television. Let him understand what's good and bad for him.

Encourage him to questions. May be when he does question you about a TV mom wear make up to bed, you can help in differentiate between real life and a television act.

Don't be engrossed in the TV yourself.

Point out inconsistencies in reality while you are watching TV. Parents need to make the kids aware about the fantasy element in serials like Shaktimaan, Karishma Ka Karishma. They could take the kid to TV shooting and point out how things are shot.

Most glamour and lifestyle shown on TV makes children think that earning money is simple. Let them see what kind of hard work goes into making a TV serial.

Parents should ask the child what he has learnt from the programme just watched. Whenever possible, the parents should instill right thoughts so that he doesn't take anything at face value and is encouraged to think and differentiate between right and wrong.

Fix a time to watch TV. Try and not tune in to TV as soon as you enter home or any time other than the schedule.

Plan what programmes you can watch along with your child in that hour. It could be news, cartoons or soaps, all the family should watch it together.

If there is an episode about TV villain kidnapping a child and asking for a ransom of Rs 100 crore, take the opportunity to help kid understand the difference between hundred, thousand, lakh and crore.

In short, take control over the small box before it starts ruling you...

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