The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Analyse this: kids can beat TV allure

Mumbai, July 12: This is to make children TV-proof.

A media research organisation has come up with a device for children — the most vulnerable of television audiences — to gently remind them that what is on screen is not life. It will do so by asking them to watch their favourite programmes or channels like Cartoon Network or television ads or even serials at school, or home, and study them.

With children watching more television than ever, the Delhi-based Centre for Advocacy and Research has come up with the tool to protect them from being aggressively targeted by TV channels and consumer goods manufacturers.

According to a study conducted by the research agency — which plans to come to Mumbai and other cities and meet partners to popularise the tool — 78 per cent children from less-privileged homes in the capital have unconditional access to TV sets.

A previous study in 2001 by the agency for Unicef and Unesco had found that children between five and 15 watched 10 hours of television on weekends.

Media influences every aspect of children’s lives — from the way they speak, to what they wear and how they view the world around them. Their hopes and aspirations for the future, their attitudes towards relationships — familial, parental, romantic, sexual — are all inextricably linked with what they see, hear and learn from TV.

The garage mechanic hero of Hindi films, says the agency, who meets his lady love while lying on his back under a car and then makes it big is very popular among underprivileged boys as a role model because he offers identification and an escape route from reality.

The agency devised the tool based on a number of play-like exercises related to TV programming and meant for children in the eight to 14 age group. The exercises can be carried out by teachers, parents or any adult who has acquainted himself with the guidelines — and are fun.

For one exercise at their pre-testing sessions in Delhi and Ahmedabad schools, children were asked to draw their own version of the Pepsi ad in which a child outwits Amitabh Bachchan. In some of the pictures, the Pepsi bottle became a five-litre bottle. “They create their own universe out of the ad,” says Akhila Sivadas of the agency.

The children are also asked to look at a set of 15 frames based on the ad and then questioned on what they remember. “We want to find what turns them on. They remember colour, or food, but they also face major challenges.”

“The Pepsi ad challenges them with the idea of the terribly clever boy. He can even meet Amitabh Bachchan. Other ads challenge them with the idea of the ideal family, or complete happiness, or the friendly mother, always smiling,” says Sivadas.

The children are encouraged to question themselves on their likes and dislikes so that they look at themselves. “They were able to arrive at some understanding of how ads elicit a desired response and why they responded in the way they did,” she says.

The Colgate ad, which has a small girl practising karate, is chosen as a module that is a check on gender stereotypes. This ad evoked extreme responses — both positive and negative — from young girls, says the agency.

The children began by appreciating the girl’s “karate techniques”, her ability to get up early on her own and get ready for school. They went on to observe the pink of her alarm clock, the reactions of her dog, and of her parents. But at the end, the image left them confused. While both the girls and boys appreciated her skill, they saw it as an aggressive outburst rather than a martial arts technique.

The fact that the girl does not win the approval of her father also made them uneasy. The need for paternal approval was not a spontaneous primary response. It emerged in the course of the module exercises.

The research centre says it decided to target the child, and not television, because the device is meant to question the audience’s predisposition towards the medium. It is not that children will learn to be critical overnight with such a tool, but that it will help them to “unravel the packaging of TV”, says Sivadas.

Some grown-ups could also do with such help.

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