By Volunteer Siddharth Dash, FHI Jaipur
It is a tragedy to see the world around us becoming more virulent day by day, engulfing us in despair and anxiety. One might expect society to progress exponentially with the advent of science and technology and the consequent increased standards of living, but the free flow of information has, unfortunately, given a rise to more misinformation and hate than harmony and amiability. It can’t be more apparent than it is in our nation. Our founding fathers would be crestfallen to see that social evils like casteism and gender discrimination are more prevalent than ever. All hope is, of course, not lost as these monolithic practices can only be changed at the grassroots. The grassroots being the young and budding minds, permeable to conditioning at a young age. We must use this permeability to our advantage and inculcate ideal values in them. No progress, economic or political, can take place without eliminating this social evil.
Children learn a lot from their immediate surroundings—families, friends, school, neighbourhood, media, and books. Gender role socialization and internalization starts at an early age. Children, who grow up in gender-equitable environments, tend to have lesser gender stereotypes than their peers who grow up in a gender-inequitable environment.
How do we teach children who are too young to understand the complexities of these social evils?
As volunteers of FHI, one of our primary goals should be contributing to the nurturing of children so that they do not house any form of prejudice when they grow up. Each and every child is born into the society with a blank mind and absolute zero behavioral patterns. The behavior of a person is dependant on the acquired and self learned lessons in childhood.
While it is important to hold events and activities for the children, adults, in this case, the caretakers, guardians and teachers taking care of children play great roles in molding and conditioning the character, behaviour and manners of a child. They should be well aware of the possible ways of developing the behaviour of a child. Since behavioral conditioning is a slow process, concerned caretakers need to be persistent in observing and interfering in the process of character formation.
It is important to know that the effects of our workshops and events should persist within the children well after the events, and it will only so if the caretakers are well informed and themselves do not possess any inhibitions and prejudices about social issues. In the events addressing social evils like this, an equal amount of attention should be paid to the people in charge of the children, and they should be a significant part of the activities and awareness campaigns that we carry out. It is the intertwined efforts of volunteers and the caretakers that will benefit the children. Advice and forced implications do not leave long lasting impressions in children. Real life examples are more penetrative as they give children something to observe and visualize. Children see adults as role models and copy the behaviour patterns of whom they look upto.
Similarly, just telling and showing proper manners and societal expectations of behaviour isn’t enough to condition children. Encouragement is the correct way of inculcating these manners into them. We must appreciate kids when they do things well. This is the boost kids need to repeat the same behaviour, infusing these traits into them for the future. Discouraging misbehaviour, however, is equally important.
How do you boil these issues down to simple terms to convey a positive message to children?
From a young age itself, children should be taught to question gender roles, identify areas of gendered discrimination. A suggestion to deal with issues like gender discrimination is to celebrate and promote positive deviants in the society. From the likes of Mary Kom to the Phogat Sisters, personalities who break gender barriers and norms should be celebrated. We as volunteers can do so by reading out stories to them, or showing them movies or media highlighting the achievements made by these personalities. This helps to motivate and tune attitudes for a progressive change.
Another simplified manner in which we can disseminate ideas is through carefully selected media that we show the kids. This can be in the form of movies or cartoons. While this idea may seem very peculiar and counter productive, the effects of such media on children are mostly overlooked. Even the few hours of television children are allowed per day does more than what they are taught in class. In the modern world television is considered to be the most effective in dissemination of certain ideas as it is easy to retain the information through audio-visual transmission. Cartoons are more attractive for children. They influence a child’s perception of the world, the formation of values, and the upbringing process. It is a win-win situation if we carefully select media shown to kids, promoting positive role models and equitable gender norms as kids enjoy watching television and can benefit at the same time with minimal effort from our side.
Cartoons often teach children the rules of behavior in the society (honesty, teamwork, hardwork) and from personal experience, even enrich the vocabulary of the child, helping to discover the world. Many of the cartoon characters have healthy lives and have many positive characteristics. It is no secret that children like to imitate the hero they see in the cartoon characters they watch.
Cartoons impart moral lessons. Good children’s stories, whether in print or on screen, offer children valuable moral and life lessons. There are several benefits to watching cartoons in the context of destroying social evils and prejudices. They expose kids to people and places beyond their day-to-day lives; by transporting them to different scenarios and worlds. It curbs ignorance about different cultures and enhances sensitivity to people from all walks of life, a key attribute for one’s attitude towards life. Cartoons often promote healthy role models as scenes often involve characters resolve challenges. They can learn lessons like kindness and resilience from cartoons. Screen time is an influence that is hard to avoid in today’s world. But we can shape this influence for the better by helping their children to make wise viewing choices and a sense of what they see.
During FHI events, social evils which are very complex to explain in simple words can be reduced to euphemisms to easily relay to kids. These euphemisms can be used in stories that we tell to the children to truly invoke the children’s attention to what we want to teach them. For example, racism can be euphemized to fairy tales like the ugly duckling story. Activities such as questionnaires can be provided to them in the form of simple yes or no’s to galvanise the newly taught lessons into kids, and overcome any doubts or disarrays with open discussion and interaction.
To conclude, mere tokenism and lip service will not do. India needs to jettison the centuries-old dehumanising baggage of social evils once and for all. We in FHI can greatly contribute to this cause by employing actions based on the above suggestions to break the chain of social evils passed from generation to generation.