Back when there were no laptops and internet, one had to go to the library and to research and make notes when one had to do a feature. It was a task to sift through all the information to write a 1500 word article. Going through the sheets of facts and figures and quotes, my head would reel and I would end up writing a feature that exceeded the word limit just thrice over! Then would follow hours of writing and rewriting (remember there was no computer at home?), till I got the piece whittled down to the desired length. Whew!
I must have been clearly afflicted with infobesity and infoxication — two terms I found in Wiki while looking up information overload – the difficulty a person can have understanding an issue and making decisions because of too much information!
If an overload of information can befuddle adults, what can it do to children? And no, I am not talking of information related to learning per se. Even discerning parents who keep an eye on the reading and browsing habits of their children can be lulled into complacency because useless or inappropriate information is soaking into their young minds and finding a fertile ground for thriving, along with relevant material and skills. Much of this information could be beyond their capacity to process. Unfortunately, many parents don’t realise this.
In an earlier post, I had talked of precocious kids of the ad world who mouth big things to bemused adults. But they are very much there in the real world too. A classic unanswerable question of who is corrupting whom.
Information and Knowledge are often used interchangeably. Much like a degree is considered synonymous with being educated. One wonders if information can ever be a substitute for knowledge, leave alone wisdom, as some parents would have us believe.
‘It is so difficult to fool children these days. They check everything on Google!’ say the proud parents. What is even more vexing is the way these children are praised and patted by the parents for being so smart and wise. And that rings alarm bells for more reasons than one. I have no problem when children are called smart, intelligent and well aware, but wise?
For one, when doting parents praise them disproportionately, the children sometimes end up thinking that they are superior to others and expect the same kind of adulation from the outside world. And when it is not forthcoming, they get confused and lose confidence. I won’t even begin talking about how it breeds smug and haughty children.
Have you, like me wondered where innocence has gone in today’s children? Well, it is all gone because of information overload. It hurts me to see young ones burdened with so much information which they are trying to make sense of. And yes, I include the most intelligent children in this group.
As for investing young children with ‘wisdom’, you might have heard of the knowledge sequence. This is how it goes:
Which means that wisdom is only reached at the end with the application of the knowledge gained through information.
Sometimes I am alarmed at the kind of things children have access to and seem to know without having the capacity to process the information they have in order to reach the last stage – wisdom.
Let us forget the internet and Google for the moment and talk of another source of information – the television. Is there any whetting of what children see on TV? I remember the TV show Satyamev Jayate which dealt with social issues. I am told it was watched by the entire family, including small children and got rave reviews on blogs, media and social media platforms. To my mind not all episodes were meant for small children at all.
Some of the episodes were certainly meant for the entire family, especially the one on CSA, which talked about the good and bad touches and taught children to speak up and seek help from parents if they were touched inappropriately. A programme on cleanliness and hygiene, or one on recycling waste are fine too as they make them aware citizens.
In an increasingly open society, it is argued that Indians should take off their hypocritical blinkers and be open about sexuality among other things. While I am not arguing about the merits and demerits of this statement, I am old fashioned enough to feel that parents of small children (of say, less than 10) have to take a call on programmes that are beyond their age.
It annoys me when parents, especially mothers explain – to a 2-year-old – in great detail the reasons for their actions. For heaven’s sake! The child is too young to understand the pros and cons of your action and is mighty confused about who is the figure of authority here! All she needs to know is that mother is telling her something and she should listen to her.
This has to slowly change as the child grows older, but the amount of explanation should still befit their age, just as the freedom they get increases with age.
Coming back to the said TV show, the one on female foeticide would have been on my list of PG for older children, but not to be shown to very small children at all. Incidentally, it was the very first episode, I think. and with all the publicity preceding it, the entire family must have sat around the idiot box to watch it.
I really can’t understand how a small child can process this kind of information. While it is the most horrific thing to kill a foetus just because it is female, it is not a straightforward case telling about a certain thing like good and bad touch or water conservation. There are so many shades to it – the social angle, the moral and ethical issue of taking a life, women’s rights and so on. I wouldn’t classify this topic broadly as ‘information’ to be made available for consumption for very young children.
I am all for sensitizing children about the miseries of the world, the inequalities that abound around us, the crimes that take place – especially those that could impact their safety and security, but I also believe that such information has to be carefully given to them, in age-specific ways so that they are not traumatized by it. Some information can wait till they grow up a little, when they can begin to process the information in ways that they can understand. Simply exposing them to everything saying that they are ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ or that the parents are ‘liberal’ is the most foolish thing to do.
Often too, parents and others in the family discuss such programmes after they end. Or when some event in the neighbourhood has occurred and it is being discussed, peppered with personal opinions about the people concerned. These value judgements will be imbibed by the child in addition to the gory images they saw on TV. It is a great temptation for parents to pass on their value judgments to their children and when they are biased in any way, the child grows up with the same biased viewpoint.
Let us consider a hypothetical scenario where the family has a pregnant woman visiting them. The little boy or girl who has learnt about female foeticide looks curiously at the woman and depending upon how precocious or reticent he or she is, comes up with one of the following questions:
- ‘Will you kill her if it is a girl baby in your tummy?’ – asked directly to the woman.
- ‘Mummy, is the aunty going to find out if she has a girl baby in her tummy and then kill her?’ – whispered in fear.
- If she is a particularly shy and introverted child who does not voice her fears, she might retreat into her shell, thinking all kinds of confusing and gory thoughts.
I might have given an extreme example to illustrate the point but I firmly believe that like everything else, information needs to be fed in limited and required quantities in age appropriate ways.
Do preserve their innocence and let them be children instead of trying to turn them into mini adults – and confused ones at that!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Images: Homepage- AME Info