” Poo pookum osai, adhu kekathaan aasai”. I wake up to a sweet voice resonating across the hall. When I proceed to identify the source, I was shocked to see a girl, maybe 4-5, singing in front of a huge audience! This was part of a Tamil reality show, one of the many that have cropped up in recent times.
Childhood, for many of us is associated with happiness and excitement. We were allowed to explore new places, meet new people, invent new games, and most importantly, we were carefree. The key element in a child is their innocence. This is why interacting with a kid brings me immense joy. They look at the world with a totally transparent lens , free from “grownup bias and emotions” like jealousy, hatred or deceit. As a kid, happiness usually meant those football matches during recess, or family visits to the beach for some “panju mittai”. Sadly, times have changed. There has been a surge of reality television shows where kids from the tender age of 3 are being made to showcase talents such as dancing, singing or theatre. In my opinion, these competitions are acceptable if they allow the kid to perform completely on his/her own will, without coercing them onto the stage. The judges should encourage them to perform for the joy of participating, and not winning. These shows claim to be a platform for new talent to be discovered, but are often questioned over the age-appropriateness of the content.
“The children talk too much and broach subjects that are not age-appropriate. At every age, there is a certain level of physical, emotional and social growth expected from a child. This cannot be violated constantly.”- Dr Jayanthini, Psychiatrist
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has put forth guidelines for such reality shows involving minors, and lays emphasis on age appropriate content. It clearly states that ‘No child should be made to perform or enact scenes or mouth dialogues that are inappropriate for his/her age, or those that may cause him/her distress.’
Often, many producers get away with this easily. These children are made to say things that they don’t really understand. They are exposed to a lot of negativity that will definitely have a huge emotional impact on them. How do adults have the right to alter the natural emotional growth of a child, merely for greed and entertainment? Another aspect to be considered is the early onset of a highly competitive spirit. Children are judged brutally and in many cases put down with a lot of negative comments. This can be a blow on their self-confidence, making them feel worthless and insecure. These reality shows require hours of rigorous practice, which can be mentally and physically exhausting. How will they feel, if all they get in return is a slew of negative feedbacks and rejection? School education and a happy fun filled childhood ultimately take a back seat.
Some shows are known for its tearjerker moments. Be it an ill mother brought to stage, a family reunion under flashing lights, or even discussions on personal problems the contestants face, it has it all.
“Why should personal matters be discussed for the world to see? Children may not understand the consequences immediately and it is not right to put them through that distress on stage,” says Dr Jayanthini. “This is an invasion of their privacy and I would say it amounts to abuse,” asserts the psychiatrist.
Some states have identified the ill effects of reality shows and have taken action. The most recent example is the ban of popular television programme “Kuttipattalam” aired by Surya TV. According to the Kerala State Commission for Child Rights, the show was manipulating children to say age-inappropriate.
This topic has been highly debated across many public forums. Some of the supporting arguments include helping kids cope with fear and depression at a young age, and preparing them for the future. Some argue that it builds their social and communication skills. Personally although I am not a supporter, I feel that there should be a fine line between entertainment and emotional exploitation. All these shows should take care that they understand the emotional and physical limits of the children, and take care not to affect their self-worth in any way. These shows should also have a counselor who helps the children cope with rejection and failure. Parents should also be ready to take their children out of the show at any point they feel depressed or uncomfortable.
After all, childhood is the most beautiful of all life’s seasons.