We tend to associate television with entertainment and some fun time after a hard day’s work, but have we ever observed the effect that media has on our children nowadays? Bomb blasts, gun fights, street riots, public rage, strikes, murders…all day long news channels bring into our households depressing stories of bloodshed and violence all around us.
While adults seem to have become immune to such horrifying reports, our children are becoming adversely affected and this is reflected in their speech and actions.
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It is an alarming fact that words and phrases related to violence are fast becoming part of our children’s vocabulary. For example, a friend who teaches in a school in Islamabad told me that while writing an essay about a shopping experience in a supermarket, few children wrote about customers being robbed at gun point while one child wrote about it being bombed. The worrying fact was that young children had given extremely graphic details of guns, bullets and dead bodies in their essays.
During a parent teacher meeting in my children’s school, parents were advised not to discuss load shedding, petrol prices and politics within their children’s hearing. The reason given was that it was promoting negativity, anger and abusive language among children who were absorbing their parents’ frustration with some of the adverse circumstances that have gripped our country in recent times.
While watching television, the lines of reality can often get blurred for young children. At this impressionable age, they cannot separate fiction from real events. A number of studies have reported that watching media violence frightens young children, and that the effects of this may be long lasting. When children accept violence as part of life, they also accept it as a means of getting their own way. This attitude can have a very negative impact on their personality as they grow up.
As parents, we want our children to be shielded from the hard realities and tragic facts of life. At the same time, we want them to grow up into informed and educated adults. So how does one strike a balance?
Teach by example:
A wise person once said, “Whatever you want your children to be tomorrow, be that person today.” If grown-ups are frustrated, angry and negative all the time, we cannot expect our children to grow up into emotionally healthy and stable adults.
Children learn by example and they are strongly influenced by the behavior, values, and attitudes of parents, teachers and other adults in their lives. Values of respect, honesty, and pride in the family heritage and our country can be important sources of strength for children, especially if they are confronted with negative images and tragic news stories on television.
Celebrate small things:
Teach your children to enjoy small things in life. Good marks in school, victory in a cricket match, a new friend, rainbow in the sky or small milestones accomplished by children are all reasons to smile. Once we learn to celebrate and be grateful for small things in life, it becomes easier to resist pessimism and overcome frustrations in face of adverse circumstances in life.
Manage your own frustrations:
Everything is expensive, there has been no electricity all day long, you had a tiff with your boss and there is a mountain of housework to be done…these everyday challenges can put one in a very bad mood and domestic quarrels can flare up easily. Parents who are always angry and always yelling are teaching their children to be angry and abusive too. Whether you attain your serenity from yoga, music, exercise or by sitting on a prayer rug, try to manage your anger and not vent your frustrations on your children.
Teach compassion and responsibility:
Children who like to help others and have a strong sense of responsibility are more likely to have a positive attitude towards life in general. They believe in making the world a better place for themselves and others.
Discourage aggression in children:
Superman beating villains into a pulp or Ben 10 using special powers to defeat the alien forces…these cartoons and television programmes sow the seeds of aggression in children who feel might is right. As parents we must monitor the content our children watch on television. Try not to buy toy guns or toy military tanks for your children. If you find them smashing cars and shooting siblings in a mock battle, intervene at once and direct their energies towards some other games like riding a bike, reading books or playing cricket etc.
Keep an eye on the company your children keep:
Make an effort to know the friends your children hang out with. Even if your child is innocent, he could get mixed up with bad company who might make use of his cell phone or computers for fishy reasons. Talk to your children about dangers of peer pressure and how they can overcome it without losing their friendships.
Children absorb a lot from the environment they are brought up in. While things around us are far from perfect, by giving them a safe and happy home environment and teaching them to adopt a positive attitude, we can literally create a more positive world for them.