Another child has set herself on fire, trying to imitate a scene from her favourite TV serial. Her last words to her mother is heartbreaking enough - "I only wanted to play."
Apparently, 7-year old Prarthana was crazy about the horror-drama serial Nandini. A quick look at Nandini's plot is enough to send our heads spinning. Vengeful snakes, spirits of murdered wives, schemes and counter-schemes to murder - just what the psychologist prescribed for the healthy development of a 7-year old child.
Nandini is telecast at 9 pm - the "family viewing time" when the family gathers around dinners and TV - which is the unfortunate norm in most Indian households.
Children are especially susceptible to negative messaging. The primary reason for this is due to their credulity. The visionary psychologist Bandura claimed that children are able to distinguish reality from fantasy only after the age of 7 or 8. Till then, they believe most things they see and hear as reality.
Secondly, children learn mainly through imitation. Language, social skills, empathy, morality are all learned through observing the world around them and the behavior of the adults they see - which is today, with busy working parents and nuclear families - mostly through television.
As I explained in a previous article, when adults watch such programs along with their children, they are actually sanctioning the behavior displayed in these programs. Children subconsciously absorb that behavior as permissible.
Programs on TV - unlike cinema - come right into our living rooms, everyday. The characters become as close to us as family members. We are keen to follow their lives, their ups and downs. We take sides. We hope things work our for them. But why should children be caught in the same?
Unlike episodes of cartoon shows, where every segment is a story in itself, even if part of a narrative continuum, mega serials have long-winded, complex, interwoven plots and characters that defy logic, woven with the sole aim of generating TRPs. That our children are caught in this web is the real tragedy of our times.
Will parents wake up at least now and switch off the TV?