Child’s Play?

Junior MasterChef,Dance India Dance Li'l Masters and India's Best Dramebaaz. Are we pushing the boundaries of reality television by splashing a child's vulnerability on prime time?

Published:October 18, 2013 1:10 am

CHEF SURJAN SINGH JOLLY

Judge,Junior MasterChef: Swaad ke Ustaad

I have worked very closely with children in Junior MasterChef over a period of 11 weeks and seen them experiencing many emotions. And today’s generation is moving very fast. In my time,things were very different with respect to the opportunities provided to children,the exposure,and the acceptance of various kinds of professions by society. Children these days are tougher and it is important to give them a reality check about tougher times. By that I don’t mean that they should go through some shock treatment. But it is important for them to face challenges and understand the difference between victory and defeat.

For me,crying is an emotion that declares passion. It’s not a negative thing. As mentors and judges,we should know how to handle and console a child who is facing rejection,by telling them why someone else did better than them. These shows are like small hurdles that ready children for the future.

We must remember that we live in India,a land of numerous cultures,traditions,family connections and socio-economic conditions. We show a lot of happiness on the show,and I feel it’s important to respect sadness too. When children cry on the show or get upset after elimination,we show it because millions connect to it. It’s television and this connect is very important.

Also,these reality shows help the society in accepting that being a chef,a dancer,a fashion designer or an actor are respectable professions. When I wanted to be a chef,my grandfather was not pleased. In my time,no such shows existed either. But today,it’s these shows that are bringing offbeat professions to the fore. When children watch these shows,they get inspired too. Most importantly,if somebody wants to be a professional swimmer,they start practising from the age of five,then why can’t they be in reality shows that prepare them for a career?

DR SAMIR PARIKH

Consultant Psychiatrist

I think the question we should be asking ourselves has shifted from “should children participate in reality shows?” to “what can be done to ensure that children don’t go through behavioral changes after reality shows?” I believe that competition happens at school level too,so there is no harm in participating in talent shows. The only difference is in the scale of the event and that shouldn’t be a problem. The issue arises in the way children are handled on such shows.

Before a competition in school,a child may not sleep at night and the same thing is true for reality shows. The main difference is that after being on TV,you may be recognised on the road. Children don’t know how to handle that. It’s also possible that people may stop noticing him and that’s hard on the child too. Also,there is parental pressure.

It’s time to look for solutions and the most important one is to make it mandatory to have counsellors and child psychologists on the sets of reality TV shows. Interactive sessions should be held with the participants before,during and after the show too.

Criticism by mentors and judges has to be constructive and the children should not be a reprimanded in any way. That’s public humiliation and has a negative effect on the children. Parents need to ensure that they minimise glamour in life. Nothing should change in the child’s life — friends,school,tuition,hobbies. They should feel that these reality shows were just a new learning experience in their life,not their life itself.

Parents of children who watch these shows should also make sure that they sit with the child and counsel them,help them deal with a crying contestant on TV. Drama will exist on TV and there is nothing we can do about it. We can however help these children in dealing with it.

— Debate conducted by Somya Lakhani

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