Are reality shows teaching our children that it is alright to be loud and brash? Or, that winning is all that matters?

How many times have we sighed looking at a garishly-dressed six-year-old gyrating on a dance show to some suggestive lyrics that she barely knows the meaning of? Welcome to the world of present-day tele-programming, where nothing is out of bounds if it means grabbing a handful of extra TRPs! Children are the latest victims of the reality monster, who, after taking many a sane adult in its stride, has now enveloped children as young as five into its folds. Be it dance shows, singing competitions or comedy contests, it has become de rigueur for children to feature prominently in them. How healthy is this trend?

Brighter side

Certainly, reality television does have its brighter side.  The exposure it accords and the gateway(s) it opens to bigger and better things is undoubtedly a huge plus. However, with the age of aspiring participants declining, one can't help but wonder if it is a case of ‘too much too soon'?

Sarita Khanchandani, mother of Sparsh Khanchandani (10), who has featured in several TV shows including “Zara Nachke Dikha” on Star Plus, avers, “it's so competitive today that there is no scope for kids to enjoy a quiet childhood as our generation did. So, it is but natural that when a platform like reality shows, which offer so much exposure, comes up, parents grab it up for their child, because ultimately, all parents want to give their children the best of opportunities. Why should we harbour only a negative view about parents sending their kids into reality shows? Which parent would wish for his/her child to be troubled or overworked? On a personal note, we agreed to let Sparsh participate in one because since childhood, she has shown aptitude towards the performing arts; thus when we got a platform like ‘ Zara Nachke Dikha' we allowed her to participate because she was keen on it and we were assured of her studies and health not being compromised. So it's a win-win situation wherein she gets to do something she enjoys and also gets wholesome appreciation for it, which in turn boosts her confidence in the long run.”

Varsha Karve, mother of Atharva Karve (10), who has been an anchor in reality shows such as “SaReGaMaPa Little Champs” and “Eka Peksha Ek” on Zee Marathi supports this: “As much as we want to, how long can we keep our children mollycoddled and away from the reality that life brings in? But, when we gave in to Atharva's wish to participate in the shows when the offers came along, we briefed him about the long hours he might need to endure and the extra efforts that he would have to put in to compensate his studies. Being the mature child that he is, Atharva understood and took it in his stride. I think it has been a great learning experience for Atharva …factors like the importance of discipline, time-management and stage-confidence, which are bound to help him in whichever profession he chooses later on, have been inculcated into Atharva at a very young age.”

Both the parents are however vehemently opposed to the sexualisation of kids on reality shows. Varsha goes as far as to add that “had it been a girl in place of Atharva, we probably wouldn't have allowed her to enter the entertainment industry at such a young age.”

We cannot also forget that reality shows are a commercially viable industry. Also, as choreographer Pony Verma (who has judged kids on shows like ‘Chak Dhoom Dhoom' on Colors) avers, “today's kids are lucky to get such great platforms. It is up to the parents to exercise self-control and support the child instead of riding one's own ambition on him/her. If parents deal with the whole reality-show juggernaut maturely, it can open up fantastic vistas for their children.”

Doing it right

Saurabh Tewari, Senior Vice President & Head Of Fiction Programming, IMAGINE-TGNL, supports Pony's view as he says “while at Imagine we've never had any reality shows with children, I feel it's not unhealthy for kids to participate in reality shows provided the broadcaster and production houses keep shooting hours under control besides keeping the content of the show kid-friendly.  Sexualisation of kids should be heavily discouraged.”   

 On a parting note, this analysis by Asst. Prof. (Eng. Lit) Sonali Pattnaik who is also a staunch activist for gender sensitisation makes for an interesting insight: “‘Modern' Indian society is facing an onslaught of mass media and social networking sites that encourage pervasive and exhibitionist cultures. Add to that is this notion of misplaced social Darwinism which celebrates a no-holds barred approach to competition and all of this is cannibalised by the reality television trend. As it is, girl children grow up with terribly low self-confidence and bad body images in hetro-patriarchal cultures like ours; and then, to have to lose their childhood to oppressive ideas like ‘being sexy' and ‘revealing' only adds to that burden. My worry is that if one continues to subject the girl child to this kind of objectification, then it becomes impossible to extricate that from other issues like female foeticide, dowry etc. These children appear like circus animals, teased and taunted and made to perform all kinds of acrobatics for the amusement of the supposedly sane and adult.”

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For five minutes of fameJanuary 22, 2011