The effect of the media on children has been an eternal debate between the warring forces of censorship and freedom, government regulation and liberalism. The goal of both factions has always been to protect the ‘innocence’ of youth, but in the social media era the definitions are poles apart and the debate even more caustic.
As popular culture continues to push the envelope, sex continues to be taboo and the regular target has been the promotion of safe sex. The government order for TV channels to show condom ads only between 10pm and 6am is aimed to safeguard children from ‘indecent and inappropriate’ content, taking objection to the promotion of contraceptives by celebrities in ‘steamy’ ads.
The order shows the government does not trust parents and teachers and it is better equipped than both to ‘protect’ children. Beyond India, this ‘nanny-state’ exists in different scopes around the world with the common sentiment that parents are becoming lazy. In 2016, the head of the UK Government health regulatory body Lord Ashton claimed the Government must give parenting lessons to protect children neglected by schools and bad parents. He even added that one in ten children in the country were emotionally stunted due to poor relationships with their parents. Back in 2008, the US Congress even introduced 2 bills, the Pre-K Act and the Education Begins at Home Act to give more powers to social workers to screen children for emotional and developmental problems.
Through all the moral indignation over the issue, the responsibility of parenting is regularly ignored. As society, lifestyles and media continue to evolve and diversify, parents seem to be ceding ground to the government, schools and other social institutions. It is challenging for parents in the social media era to regulate what their children consume, as youngsters tend to be 10 steps ahead in the technological evolution. However, as times change, so do the duties of parents.
In my youth, World Wrestling Entertainment with its violence and scantily clad women was the cultural corruptor enticing the youth. My mother instead of banning my viewing, chose to watch it with me, changing the channel when the content was inappropriate and even cheering herself when Dwayne Johnson or ‘The Rock’ entered the frame. She chose to converse with me over the different themes WWE boldly promoted, engaging instead of clamping down in my rebellious years. There is an old episode of ‘Friends’ where Phoebe’s sister is a porn star and I had no idea what that was. When I asked my mother, she calmly explained the adult industry to me instead of banning me from watching the beloved show. Even discussing sex, STDs and contraceptives were never off the table at my home, and over time it garnered a confidence in me to seek my parents’ counsel over anything new in life.
This process of parenting is essential to ground core values in children, from respecting women, to being healthy, to being tolerant of myriad views in our dynamic world. It allows youngsters to make the right choices as they step out of the shelter of their homes, and live freely in an open, multicultural and more connected community. This can only come if parents engage with their children instead of relying on blanket bans and cultural regulation, depending on governments and schools for being the sole custodians of their ‘innocence’.
The thought behind the condom ad regulation order is misplaced. A Government should never strive to be a nanny, and leave it to parents to take responsibility for what they have signed up for. The Supreme Court ruled that privacy is a fundamental right and in a free society, families must operate as private institutions. Parents must be trusted to be responsible to raise the citizens of tomorrow and be at liberty to do things their way.