The gush of fast-paced living that this world is engulfed in seldom comes with any exceptions. Overachieving is no more a celebration of rarity. But is the path for success taking a route different from natural growth? The growth of children is a process that is like a gentle unfolding of the morning sky. This growth metaphor is known to many, albeit ignored these days.
The participation of children in reality TV shows has been a topic of contention. The trend of reality shows began in India from the late 20th century. The glitz and glamour that come along with it have proved to be immensely appeasing to the hoi polloi. An open pulpit with professional judgement, lucrative payments and a favourable exposure requires a heart too strong to reject.
Over the years, psychologists and child welfare activists have questioned the effects of participation in reality shows by children. A question arises, are children so young ready for the pressure that the entertainment industry comes with? The pressure primarily starts from the home front because things shift from being a case of passion to an oriflame of pride for the family. It is just an indirect social learning of belonging to a place which the child has little control over and will continue for life. These shows are much different from closed school and community events in several ways. An academically controlled competition is a place for sheer meritocracy and guided all along by educators and several other aficionados of the respective field. There is little or no money involved in these competitions and that of a relatively friendly pressure.
When the talk of age arises, it is also a point to be considered that, the performances that these children have to put up are at many times inappropriate for their age. Time and again there have been instances of children dancing to item songs, portraying dance moves not appropriate for their age, and even act out dialogues which they hardly understand. An instance that struck with me was when a child from an acting championship addressed the lady judge as ‘item’ (a vulgar Indian slang used for an attractive woman). It was passed in the form of a chortle by the judges because it seemed of meagre significance at that moment, but it invariably becomes a part of child’s social learning. It would be powerfully wrong to say that a learning made for social appearance won't meddle with the person that child grows up to be. It is a grave disservice to children whose talent is supposed to grow with a balmy space for creativity.
An extensive exposure right from the beginning leaves dismal space for exploration, leading to a complete burnout of the child in his future years. There is a pressure on children with another expectation — the one of being an all rounder. Not all children have it in their capacity to be equally good at academics and their extra-curricular activities, which is not easily understood by all households.
Another aspect of children being involved in Reality tv shows in the current times is their early life on social media. The account might not necessarily be one of their own. There is a grappling trend of fan pages, or verified accounts run by someone else. An early exposure to the reaction of such a huge audience might not be palatable to children, considering how overwhelming things get at times. Young children these days are a part of derogatory memes and jokes which create an image difficult to erase. This tale of public validation continues to the Public voting system that a lot of shows hold at times leaving children with unhealthy expectations and shattered self-esteem. When Bonnie Wright, the actress who played the character of Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter movies expressed her pleasure on the fact that social media didn't exist during her young acting days, we know that there is little to be dubious about that statement.
Participation in reality TV shows paves the way to an early celebrity life of the children followed by the impending pressure of being perfect all the time. The entertainment at several times demands like long working hours, distance from parents and friends, and also strict diet regimes. This leads to taking children away from the normal life and takes away their chance of committing mistakes and getting up from dark pits. Hiding feelings comes really early to these children even when they are not ready for it. Along with performance pressure, comes the financial pressure that children have to go through. They are tied in the shackles of late or insufficient payments, which although does not directly affect them, but does add a monetary value to their talent.
This year in February, there came another aspect of the disquiet that surrounds participation of children in Reality TV shows. Papon, a famous Indian singer was caught on camera kissing a minor on the lips. While a lot of people were outraged, the minor and her parents resorted to covering up the whole case on the pretext of it just being a gesture of love, but it all ultimately boils down to the topic of maintenance of public image. This makes us open a dialogue about the safety of children from incidents like these, which can harness as a lifelong trauma for the child.
A number of steps have been recently taken against the rigorous shooting schedules and forbidding any kind of vulgarity in the shows that stars children. Keeping aside the steps against the overt harms, we need to give a thought about the latent ill effects. A thought needs to be given about the need for a person’s consent to be a part of something that has such deep reached effects. Should participation of children in reality shows be set at a certain age where a child understands all the risks attached to the profession?
Creativity knows blooms and not ripping apart of a flower. The call is yet to be taken.
Shmueli, B. (2015, June 22). Children in Reality TV: Comparative And International Perspectives. Duke Journal of International and Comparative Law, 25, 289-360.
Thirumurthy, P. (2017, July 14). Exploitation Disguised as Entertainment in Kids’ Reality TV Shows. The Quint. Retrieved from https://www.thequint.com/news/india/exploitation-of-children-for-entertainment-in-reality-tv-shows
Tucker, V. (2017, July 14). Are reality TV shows damaging mental well-being of participating children? Hindustan Times. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/are-reality-tv-shows-damaging-mental-well-being-of-participating-children/story-IDZJiOJ9vvipuYEAsjxYjM.html
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