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Published in the 1-15 Oct 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Generation next not keen to study

By Mohammed Hanif Lakdawala

There was a time when, as night fell, the air would be filled with calls to kids to stop playing and come in to study. Today, parents have to battle to get the TV turned off or shut down the computer. 

Mumbai: Reebok India even has a name for today's teenagers: 'screenagers', because they spend so much time in front of the TV, the computer or sms-ing on their mobile phones. "Parents complain all the time that kids spend too much time watching TV and that what they watch are useless programmes which are non-educational or too violent," said Hema Desai, a school counsellor at Vidya Bhavan in Mumbai. 

"Once kids get used to watching a lot of TV, it's difficult to get them off the habit when they get older," she cautions. Parents should take more responsibility, be firm with children, and not give in to their demands: "Parents and kids should decide together what they can watch, and for how long, and then be firm and make sure kids stick with that," Hema said. Sometimes, especially when both parents are working, this becomes hard to follow though.

"They also complain that kids are not reading or playing outdoors because of TV." Hema, who counsels children and parents, says parents believe they have no control over what the kids watch, as frequently, especially in a joint-family system as it is difficult to keep a tab. There are also instances of parents who have installed individual TV sets in their kids' room, making it harder for adults to supervise the kids. Sometimes, parents themselves are to blame for using the TV as a surrogate babysitter.

"Once kids get used to watching a lot of TV, it's difficult to get them off the habit when they get older," she cautions. Parents should take more responsibility, be firm with children, and not give in to their demands: "Parents and kids should decide together what they can watch, and for how long, and then be firm and make sure kids stick with that," Hema said. Sometimes, especially when both parents are working, this becomes hard to follow though.
In the case of businessman Anis Syed, his 15-year-old daughter Farheen, used to watch a lot of Channel V and MTV and the parents have learned that the best way to deal with the problem is to make her aware of the consequences. "The more you restrict them, the more they'll try and do things on the sly," says Anis. "So the best thing to do is tell the child that the buck stops here... with you." The family bought a computer a couple of months ago, and since then their daughter's attention has shifted. The computer is in the parents' bedroom, and they check on who she is chatting with, or e-mailing, while she is online. 

That is the norm at the Ansari's' too: Samira, who has two sons, 17 and nine years works part-time and tries to be at home by the time boys come back from school. Just her presence at home dissuades them from behaving irresponsibly, she says. Her older son, Javeed, watches the sports networks, and HBO or Star Movies; he is allowed to watch TV for 60 to 90 minutes every day, although she is flexible if he keeps his end of the bargain of studying. "You can't have a hard-and-fast rule about many things - it doesn't work that way," says Samira, who reads a lot of material on parenting, and believes kids cannot be allowed to make independent choices all the time. 

"Even at 17, kids need some discipline." At their home, too, the TV and the computer are in a common room, so the parents are always aware of what the kids watch, and when they are on the Net. "We will not put a TV in their room - how long does it take to change the channel on the remote, when they know we are coming in?" she said. Sadique, who is in Plus Two, surfs the Net late in the night for his schoolwork and also for e-mail and chatting. He usually tells his parents when he goes online, and also tells them whom he chats with. His parents keep track of the sites he visits.

Sofia Khan, Psychoanalyst believes that schools also ought to take some responsibility for kids' behaviour at home. "When the school intervenes, kids are more likely to take that seriously. When parents make rules, they just want to rebel against them," she said. Sofia suggests that parents should know that the rules for their younger son will probably be different from the ones for their older son, and be willing to adapt them: "The age in which they grew up is very different from the age in which kids are growing up now," Sofia adds. Saeed Merchant, Human resources Manager in a multi-national discusses with the kids before deciding which channel or serial to watch. "I interact with my children after watching television and often ask them to analyse the situation shown. I then guide them and warn them about the difference between real life and fantasy shown on the TV, " he said.

Whether it's a mobile phone, television or a computer children need their parent's guidance. Pre-conceived notions and autocratic style quite often increases the distance between children and parents. Communicating with them and understanding their needs will prevent children from falling into bad habits. Mobile phones, Internet and Television have become an integral part of today's lifestyle. But discerning Muslim parents can lay down rules and define the limits, points out Sofia. There was a time when as night fell, the air would be filled with calls to kids to stop playing and get in and study.

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