The little Red Riding hood almost came under the sparkly claw of a wicked wolf because she did not pay heed to her mother’s advice about “Do not talk to strangers”.
It may sound bizarre, but if you step back and think, we have a window in our homes – the sweet “telly” – through which strangers of all kinds sneak into the minds of our children. They are intensely hued, have sweet tones and innocuous eyes. Cartoons are ubiquitous motifs, from the school bottle to the furrowed folds of diapers. Children cuddle them during bed time as soft toys and even want to eat junkies in anticipation of little toys that are offered with ‘kids meal’.
Children are so surreptitiously surrounded by umpteen unrealistic cartoon characters that there is no way to escape. Many of us see those cartoons reflecting in the way kids talk and behave; often we laugh it off and continue with the business of the day.
Many parents, and I am no exception to this, slide smartphones towards their children to stop their interruptions or to afford ourselves a break – because unfortunately, we don’t have a switch off button above the hip bone of our children. What should we do? We can neither cut TV /internet connection (it’s equivalent to cutting off oxygen supply!) nor can we leave them in the hands of these apparently harmless manipulators called toons. Leaving children completely to make sense out of what’s being shown is like allowing oneself to be fed anything and everything. You may not like that your child is fed sex, violence, bullying and cheating by being lured through those adorable animated little funny sketches.
So, let’s face them, sit by our child’s side and filter the things that reach his pliant mind, deflect what is not appropriate for him/her and bring the interiors to the fore by scraping off the garish and giddy exteriors. There are many benefits if you start sharing the fun of watching cartoons with your children. Instead of allowing toons to make their way into your child’s sponge-like mind, use them as a medium to benefit your child in making better sense of the world around.
- Screen time – best bonding time: Use screen time with children as a bonding time. Smartphones, tablets and TV are drifting us away to seclusion which is also responsible for why everybody feels so depressed and overwhelmed in spite of feeling “connected” all the time. There is less communication between parents and children. Watching cartoon together can bring up lots of topics to discuss about.
- Travel along in fantasy worlds, hold on to realism too: Elves and fairies with magic wands, gadgets to quickly raze any problem to the ground sets some unrealistic expectations in children and makes them look out for people and things to solve their problems instead of depending on hard work and acumen. The naïve mind of children aged between 3-6 cannot differentiate between real and unreal. We can save them from slipping into an unrealistic world and having unrealistic expectations by helping them understand what is ‘for the sake of creativity and fun’. The joy would be double if you travel with your kid in their fantasy world. Taking up the conversation later during meal time or play time is a good idea!
- Educate and increase awareness: There are many times during a course of an episode when a child’s curiosity is evoked. That’s the best time to educate them because they are more likely to connect and remember stuff. I remember there is an episode of ‘Octonauts’ where explorers and rescuer critters save a sea creature from mangroves. Later we did lots of research to learn about ‘mangroves’.
- Manage Screen time: It’s very important to set screen time which ideally should not be more than one hour per day. When you become a partner of your children, it becomes easy for you to manage their screen time. They look forward to the time when you are home from office to share the fun with them. Switching off the TV when you are watching together is easier than shouting from the kitchen or office area ‘ stop now’. When you don’t watch it with them they negotiate ‘half an hour more/one hour more’ or they stop listening to you altogether. Ah! Sad sides of parenting.
- 2 Positives and 1 negative: There is hardly any cartoon series which is enriched with goodness and positive messages only. Often our heckles are raised amid bouts of hilarity while watching them. For example: ‘Peppa pig’ is a nice, educational cartoon in many ways but the tantrums she shows and how she answers back to her parents is something I will not like to percolate down deep in my child’s behavioral anatomy. While watching, it is important to differentiate between right and wrong. You may say ‘I like Peppa is a curious little pig but I don’t appreciate the way she talks back at her parents.’
Disney has produced many stories where parents of the protagonist die early or are already dead. For example Nemo’s mom died, Alladin is an orphan, Little Mermaid’s mom dies and our latest recreation of ‘Beauty And the Beast’, Belle is motherless. The intention was probably to evoke more sympathy but it can also be read this way – “life is more fun and adventure without parents”, this may sound very fatuous but do think about this too.