Children at risk
Children at risk
The big twinkling eyes of a child are the most effective receptors in the world. A child’s mind is like a blank pen-drive. Whatever she/he sees, hears or feels, gets loaded into this pen-drive and is accessed when necessary. Parents across the world want their children to grow-up into fine individuals. Individuals, who are well-mannered, have a modern outlook to life, are bright, good citizens and more importantly are great human beings. For parents, a child with all the above great qualities is like a medal for their fantastic parenting skills. In short, every parent wants good content in the initially blank pen-drive. To ensure this, parents do a lot of things throughout their life. They follow different strategies. They have different reward and punishment mechanisms to differentiate the good from the bad. In spite of all of these there are so many ways that a virus can enter that pen-drive. That is, there are so many ways in spite of best efforts from the parents that a child in her/his formative years can learn what she/he is not supposed to learn. Gender stereotypes and racist stereotypes are among the top of the list in this category. This article deals with certain very subtle external stimuli from the environment which our children are bombarded with, day in and day out. How these stimuli may affect our children is something we don’t even realize in day to day affair.
Gender stereotypes in the loos
Sometime back, I went to an amusement park. A place often frequented by children. I was shocked when I saw the loo signs there. The men’s toilet had a picture of a boy, with a thought bubble saying “Football” and the ladies loo had a picture of a girl, with a thought bubble saying “Jewellery”. Such things might seem very innocuous to us. But, for a child this might be ‘one new thing I learnt today’. The extent to which this might damage a child cannot be imagined. A 5 year old girl might start believing that jewellery, shopping etc is what she is supposed to do. Sports and physical fitness is only for the boys. If I play a lot of sports people might call me a ‘tom boy’ and dislike me. For a 5 year old boy, this might be even more damaging. He might start believing that girls are weak, and not meant for sports. He might rudely shoo away a girl who might want to play with his group. This could be the start of chauvinism. Gender stereotypes are very common in toilet signs and there are a numerous examples that I can think of apart from the one that I have already mentioned. The macho male weightlifting vs. a bikini clad girl, X-box vs. cooking and so on.
Gender stereotypes in the cartoons
We all have grown up watching cartoons. Cartoons are something designed for children. Yet, to see some really shocking stereotypes in cartoons is disheartening. A month back I sat down to watch Doraemon with my 6 year old cousin. Doraemon is a Japanese cartoon, which has won many accolades for its informative and value oriented content. The episode I saw, was neither informative nor value oriented. Nobita, the main character in the cartoon gets superpowers from Doraemon, the cat. Nobita, who is actually a young boy, is excited about changing the face of the world and doing good deeds. He does that eventually alright, but, before doing all of that he tells his friend/girlfriend to cook something delicious as he would be very hungry after saving the world. This is ridiculous. Young boys and girls watch this cartoon and they are bombarded with such subtle gender stereotypes, which can be very damaging. Kids might start to believe that girls are meant to cook and take care of the house where as boys are meant for bigger things in life. Cartoons like power puff girls exist, but, they are very few in number.
Racist stereotypes in Hollywood movies
Hollywood blockbusters are a great piece of entertainment. We all love to watch it and we throng the theaters week after week to catch the latest flick. However, without us realizing, could it be that these movies are unwittingly planting the seeds of racism in our children. The examples to support this are many. Let me just take a very recent example from the blockbuster hit Madagascar 3. A bunch of American animals are brave and heroic, that is good. But, just like it happens in so many other movies, the Russian tiger was evil to start with, the French policewoman was nosy, the Indian skunk talked funny and so on. A repetition of the same concepts over and over can lead to racist views among children. The idea of this article is not to criticize anyone, but to send a message across to the parents that, such things are unavoidable and omnipresent. As parents, we need to sensitize our children to these issues.
Writer’s stereotype is very common and I have to admit that even I at times have to fight it. It basically means that unknowingly writers refer to certain stereotypical macho things as ‘he’ and certain stereotypical girly things as ‘she’. A conscious effort to fight it is required to send healthy neutral signals across to kids who read it. Having said that, I would like to reiterate that, the purpose of this article was to let parents know that such external stimulus from the environment is unavoidable, and our children may be at a risk of such things. At our end, it is our responsibility to sensitize our children to such issues.