Title: Raising a Humanist; Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World
Authors: Dr. Manisha Pathak-Shelat & Kiran Vinod Bhatia
Publisher: Sage, 2021
Chapter 1: What Is Your Child’s World View?
The Big Three: How Family, School and Media Shape Our Children
Family, school and media are the three most important building blocks constituting children’s world view. While families and schools allow children to learn and practise norms and codes of conduct acceptable to the communities and countries in which they live, the media is a channel that connects children’s local environments and the outside world. Children’s perceptions of how power and politics work in the world, how to make sense of realities which they cannot experience first-hand, their mental images of people and places and their perception of their own place in the world are largely influenced by the media.
Let us look at an example. Young girls learn about gender roles dominant in their immediate communities from family members, teachers, friends and peers through routine interactions.
Many families and communities in India, for instance, want their girls to be fair because only fair skin is considered to be beautiful.
Fair becomes synonymous with lovely. In many schools, fair girls often act as female protagonists in theatre activities and other school programmes, such as cultural dance performances and video making. Many young girls are raised on a staple diet of the following aspirations.
Fair is lovely!
• You must try to make your skin look fair.
• If you have a dark skin, you must resort to chemical treatments/facials/and other cosmetic procedures to lighten your skin colour.
• Girls should not play sports because exposure to the sun will darken their skin and make them look ugly.
• Girls who have a dark skin shouldn’t wear certain colours because those colours will make their skin look darker.
• For matrimony, only fair girls are in demand. If your daughter has dark skin, it will be difficult to find a match for her.
As is evident, families and communities instil in children the obsession for fair skin through daily communication and practices.
Gradually, it also translates into discrimination against dark-skinned people, that is, considering them less valuable or beautiful.
This obsession over fair skin is then reinforced through media narratives where famous celebrities endorse beauty products designed to make girls look fair and lovely. The media acts as a bridge between children’s local experiences and the trends and practices dominant in the outside world. It is, however, important to realize that popular culture in the outside world of children and everyday experiences in their immediate surroundings happen simultaneously and constantly feed off each other.
Children are socialized on the basis of an interaction between what they observe and practise at home, in schools and communities and how these patterns of thoughts and actions are normalized and justified through media and popular culture. What is significant in this spiral of socialization is the interdependence of these two worlds.
Media: Constructing Social Realities
The media often acts as a lens through which children witness and participate in the outside world. It performs two critical functions in socializing children. First, it informs and influences the aspirations of children in relation to how they should position themselves in their societies. Second, it legitimizes several social practices and interactions. For instance, young children who have been raised on the staple diet of item numbers often sing, dance and appreciate these songs in their routines. We observe that many child contestants on children’s talent shows in India such as ‘Dance India Dance’, ‘India’s Got Talent’ and others are encouraged to perform seductively on item number songs to become more popular and get more votes. Repeated and continuous exposure to such TV content normalizes the act of sexualizing children’s bodies and encourages children to look at themselves using the same lens. They may also develop the fear that if they do not do this, the attention and love they are receiving will be withdrawn.
It is important to note that the role of the media is not limited to just representing the society as it is. It not only selects trending issues of popular interest but also encourages individuals to understand these issues in specific ways. For instance, for years, item number songs in Bollywood movies were not criticized for sexualizing and objectifying female bodies in harmful ways.
Also, the portrayals of protagonists or female leads in Bollywood movies as fair and thin reinforce the stereotype that a girl must be fair and thin to be successful in life. In many movies, their role and character are ornamental; that is, they provide diversion and comic-relief through extremely sexualized songs and dances. Media portrayals thus compel us to think of beauty among women in a limited sense—fair, thin, unquestioning and yielding, and to believe that their role in the society is limited to ‘serving the men’.
Media often represents a selected part of reality and what they want to show. For instance, during a religious conflict, voices that are strident, violent and radical always draw the maximum attention from the media, thus skewing our perception of a community. In each religious community, there are fringe voices and there are people who are working hard to initiate interfaith dialogue and to establish peace between different communal factions. These voices are never heard on prime-time news channels because voicing of moderate opinions seldom boosts their TRPs*. On the contrary, sensationalizing issues help news channels sustain and/or increase their viewership and revenue earned from advertisements, sponsorships, partnerships and other forms of economic and political alliances. When children and adults consume media stories that sensationalize differences between religious communities, individuals start believing that their religion will ultimately decide their fate in the world. Constant exposure to and consumption of such biased media stories can influence children’s everyday interactions with those from different religious communities.
When all that children can see and hear in their families, schools and media is discrimination and stereotyping, how will they find the resources to imagine a different reality?
Of course, the media has a great potential to present new possibilities and to enable individuals to reimagine ways of being in the world, but mainstream media companies are more driven by revenue generation than by democratic morals and values. If they make their audience uncomfortable, they risk losing their viewership and so they prefer to align their coverage with the dominant thoughts, practices and values in the society. When children consume media uncritically, they reproduce in their routines the aspirations and lifestyle choices projected by the media. This is how the media socializes children to behave within religious, gender, class and caste norms that benefit powerful groups in the society.
*Target Rating Points
About the Book
The world is immensely divided and broken. We have lost the art of having conversations with those who are different from us. While we cannot change the world, we can take small remedial steps starting with our homes and communities.
The authors—communication scholars—with a vast experience of working with parents, teachers and youth engage you in a conversation that is bound to leave a lasting impression on you, your children, and our world. Using critical questions, pragmatic tips and interesting anecdotes, they touch upon the deep divisive issues of our society and provide fascinating ways to use art, technology and media to provide our children with a nurturing community.
Bold and provocative at times, this empowering book is your companion in raising a humanist.
About the Authors
Dr. Manisha Pathak-Shelat is a Professor, Communication & Digital Platforms and Strategies, and Chair, Centre for Development Management and Communication, MICA, Ahmedabad. A widely published scholar, Manisha has taught and worked as a media consultant, communication trainer, and researcher in India, Thailand, and U.S.A. Manisha believes in scholarship that is socially engaged and accessible for making meaningful contribution towards a better world.
Kiran Vinod Bhatia is a doctoral candidate at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bhatia has published widely in journals of international repute and has co-authored a book on media education and critical literacy. Bhatia believes that critical education and thinking have the potential to change the ways in which we engage with others in our societies.
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