If you think just because your child has no access to any channel other than kids channels he or she is watching harmless shows, it is time to rethink! Sample this:
- Shin Chan is a five-year-old whose middle name is disobedience. He gets out of every trouble smartly while driving his parents up the wall.
- Nobita fails in his exams, hates to do his homework and banks on Doraemon to solve all his problems instead of trying to do anything himself.
- Chota Bheem, has incredible superpowers and never loses to anyone, be it at a laddu eating competition or even when he is fighting Chengiz Khan.
- Shizuka is a feminine classmate of Nobita who is forever baking cookies for her friends.
Now these are hardly role models that you would want your children to look up to. At a time that their minds are impressionable, the messages that you would want to give to them would hardly include disobeying elders or not relying on your own self in times of trouble. Neither would you want your children to grow up believing that they cannot fail because their super heroes simply never do. Similarly in a milieu where we are already fighting a whole lot of mindsets related to gender, the subliminal message you would not want to pass to your daughter is that girls are meant to be docile, restricting themselves only to household work. Yet these are the very messages that are being passed on to them day after day as they sit in front of the blaring TV sets watching their favourite cartoon shows.
Psychologists caution how it is important for parents not just need to ration the time their children are spending in front of TV screens but also monitor the content they are watching. Here is why:
Harmful effects of watching cartoons
- Increased aggression– If you notice your child becoming agitated and prone to aggression and even destructive behavior, it may be on account of the violence they are being subjected to, by way of cartoons. From action heroes to super villians, there is an overdose of violence on TV which can lead to emotional and behavioural issues in children. In fact a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology which interviewed preschool children showed how in identifying with various superheroes most missed the moral messages and landed up picking up only their aggressive behavior. That he is big, he can punch and smash was behavior noted by a vast majority of children. If your child must watch those superheroes, it will be a good idea to have a discussion with the child on issues such as why must the superhero get violent at times and whether the violence is justified. Conversations such as this will help children focus on the positive qualities and help see the situation in perspective.
Research has also shown that while watching too much violence leads children to pander to their violent streak on the one hand, it also leads them to become insensitive to other people’s pain and sorrow, on the other. Quite a double-edged sword, considering that these children are really tomorrow’s future.
- Divergence from reality– Psychologists point out that watching excessive cartoon cause children to be removed from reality while also marginalizing their cognitive functions.
- Unsavory language– Neeta Mehta, mother of 4-year-old Nitya mentions how Nitya’s vocabulary began to include terms like “aye ladkee” or even “badtaameezz“, a fact that left her totally surprised or rather disconcerted. As far as Neeta knew there was no body who used such language around Nitya. It was only one day when she was feeding Nitya while her favourite cartoon show was on that she realized the source of her vocabulary. It is imperative for parents therefore to screen the shows both from the point of view of content and use of language before allowing their kids to watch them.
- Reinforcing societal stereotypes– Your little child can unwittingly imbibe a whole lot of societal stereotypes from cartoons. So if your little boy will not stop short of projecting himself as a macho hero or your little girl thinks that cooking is her domain without you having displayed any such biases, perhaps her daily dose of cartoon is giving her these ideas
- Early exposure to consumerism– If you are wondering where those many demands of buying a particular toy or a flavor of toothpaste is coming from, you are discounting the tremendous impact the many advertisements running within the various cartoon shows is having. Add this to the fact that there is also a whole range of merchandise available around their favourite cartoon characters and you know that you are setting them up on a lifetime of media induced demands.
The above effects do not even include the many issues that emanate from over exposure to any kind of screen. We are talking of health issues such as impact on vision for starters, but also many other issues. In fact Jyotsna Vij, parent of four year old Myra shares her appalling experience when she says how Myra had begun to hold her pee till the time there was an ad break leading to medical issues. Addiction to cartoons also leads to a sedentary lifestyle, which in turn besides having health implications also reduces the child’s socializing abilities and can have an impact in later life. Speaking of a sedentary lifestyle, there is also the added element of gorging on junk food while their eyes are glued to the TV set, which opens up a whole range of issues including obesity.
All this is not to say that cartoons are the sole reason why your child is showing aggression or has become overly demanding. However, mass media with all its glamour certainly has a strong role to play in impacting behavior.
Sweta Singh, a mother whose child had developed a violent streak reminisces that she had decided that it was time that he was weaned away from watching them. The break, she confesses did result in some early withdrawal symptoms with the child being cranky on not being allowed his daily routine. However she goes on to say how the break from cartoons led her to make some very interesting discoveries about her son. Not only did they get to spend some quality time together, she discovered an imaginative side to her son as he told her stories about his school and classmates that she had never heard before.
So even if you are not ready to say goodbye to your cable connection yet, do remember to screen what your little one is watching. Shouldn’t happen that while you are attending to your chores he is soaking up some messages that will take you a long time to undo.