My nephew was seven years old. He was incredibly smart and intuitive, and an absolute delight to be with. But one day, I noticed something strange. Whenever he was bored, the first thing he would want to do is to punch things. This behaviour made me question a lot of things. Where did he learn it from? Why would a calm and happy kid get these urges? The answer came to me when a friend narrated an incident about his four-year-old son. His son had seen a hippopotamus for the first time during a family vacation. Out of the blue, he excitedly told his dad,
“ Dad, I will take the hippo over my head and throw it on my enemies!”
Why would a four-year-old have enemies? Why would he even think about such things? Where did he pick it up from?
Turns out, this four-year-old, like most other kids, is a huge fan of an extremely popular children’s cartoon. Then I realised that even my nephew was a fan of the same show. I wanted to understand this better. So, I spent several hours a day watching popular children’s entertainment. Here’s what I learned, about the elements that make most children's cartoons "entertaining":
Glorification of violence: Most shows have a protagonist that always defeats his ‘enemies’ by beating them up. Does this teach our kids that violence is the only answer?
Casual sexism: The female character in one of the shows always tires quickly whereas the male is always stronger. Moreover, this young girl is always shown to be dolled up with heavy makeup. Is this what we are teaching our boys and girls?
Disrespect towards adults: Some of the most popular shows clearly glorify bad behaviour and cheap humour.
These shows are destroying spoken Hindi: Have you ever heard the language used in some of these shows? It is appalling to see kids using words like 'bhidu', 'kya chalrelaay', 'band bajaa daala' and so on...
"Complete Family Entertainers" are a curse: Most 'comedy' shows that are considered family entertainment are very crass, and almost always have double-meaning jokes about women. Along with this there are the U-Rated movies with pelvic thrusting item songs - this is what an average Indian family watches together.
We have a problem! I realised that the child was learning nothing of value from these shows. And then I asked myself: “Are these shows teaching kids all the wrong things under the guise of ‘wholesome’ entertainment?” So I decided to ask a few parents and experts on what they thought about the entertainment children are exposed to today. The answers were exactly as I expected. I’m pretty sure most parents would agree.
"During my tenure as the chairperson of CFSI (Children's Film Society India) I did my best to introduce films that could provide wholesome entertainment for children. We need films that can help the child think critically and encourage empathy in her or him even as they entertain."
Renuka Shahane (@renukash) Mother, writer, director and actor.
“It would be nice if the comedy (in children’s shows) had some standard, and if violence was reduced considerably. Children today get desensitized to violence very early.” She adds: “Through entertainment, they are exposed to sex early (in life). It’s become very difficult for children to retain their innocence and have a healthy, balanced outlook."
"The main attraction in children’s entertainment is slapstick comedy and violence. There’s no doubt that children are heavily influenced by the shows they watch.There is definitely a need for better entertainment. Our kids need significantly improved shows and content. Even the government is slowly showing signs of supporting homegrown entertainment for children. ”
“The bitter fact is that modern entertainment is responsible for increased aggression in children these days. Due to animated shows on TV, kids are finding pride in flaunting the power to hurt others, or to win over others.”
He continues: “True entertainment for kids should encompass a large serving of empathy, love, respect, contribution, and apology - assets we are running really low on.”
“Children’s entertainment is violent. Kids enjoy it when their favourite character fights with the so-called ‘bad people’. It’s actually sad because we are teaching the kids that violence is funny.”
“They need entertainment that activates their creative and thinking skills,” she concludes.
“Children are picking up the negative aspects of being an adult. The main reason why this is happening is because of the way negative things are portrayed in mainstream entertainment. Children adapt to things very quickly and hence they are likely to copy the same.”
It’s clear that a majority of parents agree that modern entertainment is doing more harm than good to their kids. But even though they’re aware of this fact, they can’t divert the child’s attention towards anything else, because the truth is, there is no better option available to them.
So what’s the solution?
I have spent a long time understanding the core of the problem and trying to find an answer. And after months of thought and work, I came up with the concept of ‘Sochu’, a picture book series that actually teaches kids something useful and interesting, while entertaining them as much as any of their favourite shows.
Here is what we are trying with Sochu:
Sochu celebrates thinking - Sochu helps your kids to visualise “thinking” as a simple everyday pleasure.
We are bringing Yoga back - Through the character of Sochu's mother, we talk about the benefits of yoga.
Sochu teaches to value relationships - The different characters in Sochu help kids develop a sense of living harmoniously with all kinds of people around us.
Sochu generates curiosity - Each book also contains several “breadcrumbs”. Breadcrumbs are tidbits that introduce the kids to great personalities of the world - scientists, musicians, entrepreneurs, writers, and many more.
Sochu promotes non violence - Through our books, we reiterate the importance of resolving conflict in the most peaceful way possible, without ever resorting to violence.
Sochu is for everyone - Read our books to your kids and spend some quality time with them. There is a little something in this for adults as well. We promise you won't fall asleep!
Through Sochu, I want to bring nutritious, wholesome entertainment to the life of every child. Because our kids deserve better than what they’re currently being served.
So join me in the movement of celebrating the process of thinking!
However, I don’t think a single book series or TV show is the solution. The real solution is a change in mindset and a quantum leap in the quality of entertainment our kids are exposed to today. And I hope Sochu is the beginning of a change that redefines children’s entertainment forever.
I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts.