Curbing “too much television time” is a battle most urban Indian parents fight. “My daughter will pick TV and computers over her parents! Quality family time is gone. I have to keep Tanya constantly occupied, which means many classes and activities if I have to get her away from TV,” says Nina Puri, a working parent, who often locks up the room that has the television set to prevent her 13-year-old daughter from watching too much TV.
Nandini Mehta says her daughters, Niriksha, 13, and Parmangana, 11, wheedle her into allowing them to watch extra hours of TV when they are “having a bad week”. The girls are often banned from watching TV or spending extra time on the Internet because Mehta wants them to be outdoors more often. “I just take away the cable card and lock the laptop in my cupboard when I have to go out,” says Mehta.
Mothers such as Puri and Mehta can now get some help from children’s TV channels. The idea of restricting TV time and encouraging children to spend more time outdoors is now being adopted by these channels. Whether it is an attempt to pacify parents, just appear socially conscious or a genuine shot at responsible programming, only time will tell. But when a children’s channel such as Nick decides to blank out for a while (today, at 5pm, Nick programmes will be off air for 30 minutes), parents sit up and take note. Nick’s initiative “Let’s Just Play” is in its second year and Nina Elavia Jaipuria, general manager, Nick India, believes that when supers toons—Ninja Hatori, Dora and SpongeBob—tell children to get out and play, “it sounds cool and not like a nag, like when parents or teachers tell them the same thing”.
Off TV: To limit TV viewing, Nandini (right) encourages her daughters Niriksha (centre) and Parmangana to develop an interest in activities such as photography. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Varsha Mehrish says: “Earlier, my five-year-old daughter would not drink her evening cup of milk if cartoons were not playing on TV. Lately I have been telling her that (her) favourite toon character Dora wants her to drink milk outdoors. Now we just take the milk to the park and she drinks it fast so that she can play.”
Many studies have proven that too much exposure to TV leads to obesity and inability to concentrate and parents in urban centres at least are aware of this. “Television watching is a passive, isolating exercise. It is important to keep your child busy during the time they are likely to watch TV. Send them out to play. Or let them just sit and daydream—even that’s better than watching TV,” says Mumbai-based child psychiatrist Pervin Dadachanji. She believes that schoolchildren shouldn’t watch more than an hour of TV every day. “Rule of thumb—don’t let TV become the babysitter. Make the child a discerning viewer—pick a few favourite shows and let your child watch only those.”
Like Nick, Cartoon Network has found a way to do its bit in this battle against “too much television”. The channel will launch the “Go Active” initiative this month, which includes a mini marathon-like, non-competitive “fun run” for children and parents. The “Go Active Fun Run” will be held in Delhi on 22 November and in Mumbai on 29 November. Nearly 9,000 children and parents are expected to participate in each city.
Channels such as Disney, Jetix and Hungama too organize several large-scale events with the aim of getting children out of their homes and into an interactive setting. Currently Disney has My School Rocks — one such event where children from all over India audition to have their exclusive music videos on the channel, with choreographer Shiamak Davar as the judge.
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