Children are not little adults. A well-acknowledged fact we know, but which most of us conveniently ignore.
My work as an educator gives me opportunities to engage with children at various levels. Some time ago, we planned a class party together. All the students were allowed to bring food items of their choice. This included food which they are otherwise discouraged to bring such as noodles, pasta, macaroni, chips, biscuits, juices and so on. As an enthusiastic child pointed out, food was just one part and another important requirement to make the class party a success were activities. So, it was decided that each student will come prepared with a story, poem, riddle, song or dance. This could be done in pairs, groups or individually, depending on their choice and comfort level.
On the designated day, the furniture in the classroom was rearranged from the usual rows and columns to a semi-circular arena-style seating, leaving space in the middle for the students to perform. We played a few games in the beginning followed by an elaborate party lunch. Then it was time for the performances.
Popular Bollywood songs were a hit among students, with the audience excitedly singing along. The party merrily went on, though I had objections to a few songs selected by them, due to the nature of their lyrics. However, I refrained from interrupting the performances. Instead, I planned to conduct an informal discussion with the students on songs and their language in the coming days. My thoughts of how to address this issue were cut short abruptly and I was completely thrown off track by a song performed by a group of three 10 year old girls. Almost all the students in the audience too joined them by expertly singing it with jest. The lyrics of the song had a liberal dose of profanities, while it glamourised drinking and sexual violence against women. Besides, the dance moves and gestures of the girls performing this song were absolutely inappropriate for their age. I immediately stopped that particular performance.
I was later informed by an enthusiastic group of students that it was one of the most popular Bhojpuri songs. And most of them were excited, and appreciated, that the particular song was chosen by the girls and that they copied the exact steps from the song. Though none of the students actually understood the meanings of the words, they seemed happy repeating it rhythmically.
I was at a loss to break this bonhomie among students and drive home the dangerous ideas the song propagated? Or whether I should do it at all? This instance though made me realise the serious dearth of good songs and content for consumption by the children. Mainstream or regional music industries rarely produce music and songs especially for children. Due to lack of quality content for them, children routinely consume and imitate lyrics and dance steps produced for adults. Most of which is not just unsuitable but is damaging for them. Their young, impressionable minds receive popular media in all forms from television, radio and Internet videos without any screening or filter. Unable to judge for themselves and flowing with the trendy content, children have misogyny and sexism slowly normalised for them. Lack of supervision and discussions to develop sensitivity among children just add fuel to the fire. Our country has a sizeable population of children under the age of 12. Why is this substantial portion of population not catered to in our creative arts? Is this how we would like to raise our younger generations, turning them into insensitive adults even before they can be children?