Six years ago, when Yogesh Nagda, 40, bought a home in Bandra, he arranged furniture in his living room around a big home theatre system. But he never ended up buying one.
When the Nagdas had earlier lived in a joint family, their children had always had access to a television. When they moved to Bandra, they decided to experiment and live without one for a month.
In that short time, they saw their three children turning to the newspapers for information, coming home with better grades and insisting on playing outdoors more often. Now, the family gets together every day to play Scrabble or chat about how the day went.
“It wasn’t easy in the beginning,” said Dipti, 39, Yogesh’s wife. “But soon, we saw our lives improving. We don’t regret it one bit.”
The Nagdas and five other television-free families we interviewed said their children read more than their peers and were not as influenced by advertising. Their homes were certainly quieter and fewer brands were visible.
But they are clearly a tiny minority in an environment where television dominates children’s waking hours: urban children in India between six and 17 years are watching more than 35 hours of television a week, putting them at a greater risk of obesity, aggression and violent behaviour, according to a survey by the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry that HT published last week.
It’s admittedly not easy going for this resolute minority. For one, without a television, parents need to work harder, atleast initially, to get their children engaged in other activities.
“A child can be glued to a television for hours,” says Sejal Shah, 33, a doctor and mother of two from Mulund, who decided to give up the family television when her daughter, Stuti, was born six years ago. “So you have to find ways to fill that time.”
Dipti met the challenge by stacking her children’s cabinets with board games and taking her sons to play basketball on alternate days.
Shah decided to get her children involved with various craft activities. Yesterday, she invited an amateur astronomer to set up a telescope on her terrace so that she could show her daughter the wonders of space.
Shah also often reads to her children, hires DVDs and watches cartoons on the computer. “I like read Winnie-the-Pooh and drawing ducks,” says Stuti, her daughter.
But once outside the home, children like Stuti face peer pressure. Once, Shah noticed that her daughter was kept out of a game in which kids were supposed to imitate contestants from a reality show.
Not being able to watch live sports events is particularly hard to accept. “Reading about a match in the papers is not the same,” says Aksh Nagda, 10.
Some children from TV-less homes can also go overboard. When Dipti’s children visited their grandmother’s house during the last vacation, for instance, the boys were glued to the television. Nowadays, Dipti allows them to download shows they like.
Finally, parents also have to deal with peer pressure. “People actually accuse me of depriving my children of a childhood!” says Dipti, laughing.