We have to think that, as adults, are we striving to bring up a nation of young people who are struggling with self-esteem and self-worth—a generation that is looking at others for validation—or are we striving to respect our children?
Soha Moitra & Veronica Xavier
As adults, many of us have had our not-so-happy memories of our well-meaning parents asking us to perform in front of guests every time someone visited home. As parents, we too fall into this trap sometimes—of making our little ones perform their favourite rhyme, dance or song in front of our colleagues, friends, neighbours. Our guests are generous with their praises, of course, and that moment of pride watching our little ones being showered with praises must feel quite incredible. We, as parents, feel we are doing our children good by giving them platforms, no matter how small, to perform and thereby increasing their confidence levels. Little do we realise that, in our attempt to showcase our children as excellent achievers, we could be failing them. Little do we realise that these situations where they have to perform in front of strangers, whose glares are rather scrutinising and patronising, sometimes makes them uncomfortable. Now imagine the trauma that a child goes through every day when put in similar situations, except this time, instead of a few guests, there is a huge audience, judges, cameras scrutinising every aspect of their performance. This, unfortunately, is the reality of children in the entertainment industry. Adding to this is a constant pressure to perform better, to monitor your emotions, to wear your hair, smile, clothing, accessories to make you desirable and fit into an idea that popular media would like to see you in.
To constantly live with the knowledge that you are in the public eye, to look ‘happy’ or cute all the time, to have to master the art of being able to laugh, cry and perform on demand … sounds like too much we’re asking out little ones to do, doesn’t it? The kids know their parents who are pinning all their hopes on them, who are living their dreams and ambitions through them, are also in the audience. They know that they have to make them proud—cameras zooming even harder into their faces when their children fail to perform well. What message would that give to a nine-year-old who is already under so much of public scrutiny? That you have let your parents down, after how much they invested in you, you have disappointed them.
And then to put on a brave, happy face and pretend to move on. But moving on isn’t easy. Failure brings with it a lot of burden. For most children, their childhoods are made in schools, but for many children in the entertainment industry, their childhoods are made in spaces dominated by adults. Often, such kids depend on home schooling, which can affect their educational well-being and their ability to socialise, learn and grow with peers. Even if they manage to do well in the industry in their initial years, with the onset of adolescence they will have to face the reality of bodily changes. This can be a tough time—some are even subjected to criticism once puberty hits and they no longer look ‘cute’.
Child artists, it appears, come with a sell-by date. Sunidhi Chauhan, who was part of a reality show as a child artist, spoke recently how she wouldn’t want her children to go through the same pressure. “They don’t need to mature ahead of their age,” she reportedly said. Singer Shaan, too, who was part of similar shows, said that child artists “continue to play the same image that gets formed during the show … at this age it is not easy to switch on and off … they start talking the same way and that doesn’t allow them to grow.” Entertainment industry, in itself, is witness to many children who suffered paralytic attacks or mental illnesses. The 2010 case of the 11-year-old Neha Sawant who committed suicide because her parents barred her from participating in any more reality shows is witness to how children find it challenging to come back to normal life. As adults, the choice is ours.
Are we striving to bring up a nation of young people who are struggling with self-esteem and self-worth, a generation that is constantly looking at others for validation, or are we striving to respect our children? If you think the latter, then here are a few things you can do. Let’s start respecting children. Let’s take their voice seriously. Let’s ask them what they want before we decide what we think is best for them. Let’s give them space to explore, let them learn dancing, singing, sports, maths, science and then let them pick what they like. When they say a “no,” let’s not coax them. Let’s be role models for them. Let’s put them in spaces where they interact and learn from children their age. Only then can we dream of a world where every child grows up in a happy, healthy, creative environment.
Soha Moitra is regional director, North, CRY (Child Rights and You). Veronica Xavier is a child rights and gender activist involved in mobilising youth to bring about social change. Views are personal