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I&B Advises TV Channels To Be Sensitive To Children On Reality Shows –But Is That Enough?

The I&B Ministry’s recent advisory to TV channels to avoid indecent and suggestive representation of children in reality shows is a great first move. However, there are many other issues that need to be addressed to make sure that children are protected.

The I&B Ministry’s recent advisory to TV channels to avoid indecent and suggestive representation of children in reality shows is a great first move. However, there are many other issues that need to be addressed to make sure that children are protected.

A couple of years ago, Shoojit Sircar started a fierce debate about reality shows involving kids, with a tweet requesting a ban on them.

While there were those who argued that these shows are a great platform for children to explore and showcase their talents, there were also those who pointed out how the reality show system exploits children.

Last year, a video of singer Papon kissing a minor girl caused great outrage, and prompted the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has propose revising the guidelines for child participants in reality television shows.

I & B ministry speaks up

Now, the I&B ministry has issued an advisory to private TV channels, asking them to avoid “indecent, suggestive and inappropriate representation of children in dance reality shows or other such programmes.” They have further been advised to exercise maximum restraint, sensitivity and caution while showing such programmes on television.

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A statement from the ministry states, “These moves are often suggestive and age-inappropriate. Such acts may also have a distressing effect on children, impacting them at a young and impressionable age,” referring to children copying the dance moves and expressions of adults in movies.

The move has been widely lauded by reality show judges and mental health professionals.

Pushing children to an early, unwanted adulthood?

Pulkit Sharma, a child psychologist, noted that these shows bring kids, whose cognitive and emotional abilities are not fully developed into an adult world, and so, “when they are exposed to an environment and lifestyle that they are not ready for, they don’t entirely realize it is make-believe and would nurture a great desire to live the same in real life as well.”

Filmmaker Onir, raised a valid point about the sexualization of children, tweeting:

Even beyond subjecting children to sexualized content though, such reality shows are problematic.

This two year old quote by Dr N Shalini, psychiatrist, is still relevant, “Show-runners are focused on the outcome, hence, they push children to early adulthood, as, the audience wants to be entertained. When a child is involved in an entertainment programme, he/she should exhibit skills according to age and capability. Choosing to sing songs performed by experienced 50-year-old singers is not progressive but excessive performance. While performing, kids are subjected to high expectations, which is harmful to their mental health. Handling disappointments and rejections in the future might become harder.”

Ambitious parents part of the problem

Ambitious parents too, are part of the problem. As Aruna Broota, a Delhi-based psychologist who works with child actors and athletes notes, “The child’s ‘ambitions’ are artificially hyped, because it’s mostly an adult who takes the decision for them.”

Often children who may not themselves care if they win or lose, are pressured by parents. As singer Anup Jalota recounts in this piece, he once told a girl that she could not continue in a show he was judging, and while the girl didn’t mind leaving, she was worried about how her parents would react.

In respect to this recent advisory from the I&B too, there are other concerns. As TV critic Shailaja Bajpai points out, “Parents of the children haven’t been forced to these shows. Besides, so many Hindi film songs are of this nature so how do you work with anybody under age? While this intervention is healthy, how it is implemented remains a grey area.”

In 2008, a 16 year old contestant, Shinjini Sengupta, received negative feedback on a show and had to leave. Following the same, she slipped into depression, lost her speech and finally was paralyzed. While the producers of the show did pay for her treatment, they also placed the blame on her parents for letting her complete when she was incapable of doing so. Irrespective of who is to blame, the damage was to the child.

So the focus should not be on whether TV Channels are to blame, or showrunners or parents. The focus should be on the well-being of the child at all times. The recent advisory is a great first step in that direction.

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