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    Volume 10 |Issue 33 | August 26, 2011 |


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Reality Shows that Promote Unreal Themes

Children allured by the prize and popularity that reality shows
offer are in the danger of being deprived of a real childhood

Farhana Urmee

Children, often appearing like adults in the shows, contest for a huge amount of prize money.
Photos: courtesy

Television - the magic box, comes with a cherished dream for Eeshan. Besides entertaining her with cartoons and game shows, television entices her dream to become a star. Six-year-old Eeshan does not miss any episode of talent hunt reality shows for children telecast by channels from home and abroad. Not only Eashan's, but also her mother's desire to see her baby girl as a big dancing or singing star is triggered by the talent hunt reality shows on TV that they have been following for a couple of months.

Experts, for years, have been recommending children's involvement with extra-curricular activities to boost their mental and physical health. Thus it has become a common phenomenon in the country to give the children dancing, singing, painting lessons or whatever else they find interest in. Keeping aside the positive outcome of getting children involved in cultural activities, today a new practice can be noticed. Today's parents are becoming more interested to get their child an entry ticket to any talent hunt reality show.

Eeshan's mother enrolled her child into both dance and singing schools. After school Eeshan rushes for singing classes in the afternoon and after going to a tutor for school lessons, she has to run to the dance class in the evening. Fortunately for Eeshan and her parents, she has been selected for a dance audition by a private television channel. Her mother is happily busy making Eeshan's dancing outfit and finding the accessories to go with it. Despite getting the chance for a dance audition little Eeshan cannot skip singing classes as her mother has come to know that another talent hunt show for singing stars will shortly be launched by another television channel, and Eeshan has to get prepared for that as well.

Psychologists observe that competition (sports, singing, dancing or painting) is expected to bring about a positive impact on children it is an appropriate way to teach them basic things. Children learn cooperation, the need to follow rules and regulations, discipline and social skills by taking part in healthy competitions. “But it is very important to evaluate the content of the contest, to see the objective of the contest, as children cannot distinct between good and bad”, says Akib Ul Huque a Psychology teacher of University of Dhaka.

He adds that children mostly from age six to 12 take part in these contests which are mostly aired on TV. The nature of the programme must have a short or long term effect both on a participant and child viewer. A child watching or participating in the talent hunt reality shows gets some messages from the show itself, from the judges, other participants, families and the viewers. “If the programme conveys the messages of wining only, the humiliation of failure or the programmes' association with a large amount of prize money, will have an impact on the child which is not at all positive," says Huque adding that a child learns by giving attention to a particular thing that she is observing then storing that information in mind for further recalling and performing the learned behaviour.

In the whole process of learning, the capability may vary from child to child. One child might have an aptitude for singing but her capability to learn and imitate might be weaker than others at a particular age. Sometimes overenthusiastic parents force the child to take part in the contest or the child herself is allured by the attractive prize. But there is a high possibility of failure which may result in the child feeling socially rejected eventually leading her to lose interest in singing altogether. The whole incident will have an impact on the child's behaviour and attitude for life, observes Huque.

The sudden fame associated with winning a talent hunt reality show, including the huge amount of money or other reward obtained overnight can also affect the usual behaviour of a child. How much is a child taught to handle a trauma or triumph in our country, asks educationist and litterateur Professor Syed Manzurool Islam. The tendency of the talent hunt reality shows for children often gives name and fame to an ordinary child which often triggers some bad consequences, observes Prof Islam adding that “when a glamour-struck child faces reality and discovers that life comes with a number of responsibilities and harshness it becomes tough for that child to cope with. These reality shows actually tend to distract the children from the reality.”

Again, today's children are almost forced to adopt behaviour of adults at a very early age through the scopes created by reality shows. “If a nine-year-old girl sings like an adult, or five-year-old boy dances with the gestures and expressions of adults just because it sells, we are not letting the child to remain one, rather provoking an adult in the child. Acceptance of adult behaviour will bring some undue change in the outlook, attitude and values of a child,” says Huque.

“We must ensure that each and every programme designed for children should be appropriate for them according to its content and objectives. The programmes must be educational, entertaining and be able to teach life skills,” says Prof Islam. But today we see the tendency of imitating foreign TV shows, that promote rivalry and consumerism among children, objectify them as entertainers and endorse new discourses of beauty, material possessions and fame, Prof Islam adds. Children, both as viewers and participants, of such TV shows are left with misconceptions about where their potential is sponsored and talent is recognised by corporations.

Although the contests are meant for children, these singing/dancing/acting competitions are designed in the same format as programmes meant for adults. This means we are also exposing children to the pressures normally faced by adults in similar shows. Children are physically and psychologically not ready to face the harsh comments of judges, rejection from audience or the pressure to win that comes from the family, observes psychologist Huque.

The way out from this dilemma, say the experts, is to design healthy programmes made and meant for children where children will act like themselves and not just copy adults. Parents, moreover, are supposed to make decisions for their children selectively and should not push their children to a practice where they learn only to win for prizes, to be popular in a short time and judge themselves by public votes. Further, community based entertainment programmes for children can also be introduced, which every child, whether urban or rural, rich or poor can identify with.




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