Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Are reality shows doing more harm than good?

Updated on July 2 at 1 am (new link at the end of the post)

I wish Shinjini Sengupta hit the headlines for some other reason. Unfortunately, we are all saying, 'Let what happened to her not happen to anyone."

This cheerful, bright, immensely talented 16-year-old school student is struggling to get on with her life at Nimhans, after having been laid low by the comments of some judges at a reality show on TV in Kolkata.
How much her participation in the show and judges' comments contributed to her present state is being disputed. But what is 100 percent sure is her chase of a dream has gone horribly wrong.

Only dreams?

Dr Abdul Kalam, as President, used to urge our youth to dream; dream of achievement, dream of success. Going by the phenomenal popularity he enjoyed, I'm sure his exhortations had fired a million dreams; it must still be.

But did he stop at telling our young minds to only dream? Even if not, I'm sure a million minds had just stopped at dreaming, and begun living in those dream castles built on air.

Dreaming is just one small step in the long and arduous journey to reach a goal. When we helped our children fire those dreams, did we also prepare them for the long haul? I doubt.

Dreaming is easy, so also setting goals. But is anyone helping the children in their journey to achieve those goals? I doubt.

Dream, we tell our children, casually, carelessly. Young minds are launched into a roller-coaster. They are then left there all alone.

Shinjini's is just one case which fell out in the open. I am sure there are umpteen other minds and hearts seeking a straw to hold on, a prop to steady themselves.

It's time for a reality check

The show must go on, but not this way. The public stage can't be a cathartic ruse for parents to fulfil their dreams. Young, impressionable minds can't be savagely dragged through promises of cash running into lakhs and crores. Isn't there some limit to torturing children in the name of chasing dreams and success?

School educational boards have done away with the obnoxious practice of ranking. Now what about these talent shows? More than a stage for excellence, have these become pits of humiliation? Failure, not humiliation, helps us to correct ourselves and learn.

What is on stage is for all to see. What happens at homes is a slow killer. Millions of families who tune into the show, might be involuntarily goading their children to perform like the stars on the telly, some might even be making sarcastic remarks comparing their children with the stars, which sound no less than a humiliating nag.

What must be immediately done?

1) The practice of awarding lakhs and crores as prize should be stopped. Children's talents are worth more than that.

2) Competitions are fine, but adequate and foolproof safety net to protect the kids who don't make it in the full glare of the nation must be put in place. Each candidate should have continuous access to a professional counsellor before, during and after the competitions.

3) Every participant should get a valuable gift that would help him or her develop the talent. Recognising talent is as much important as recognising the winner.

4) The organisers should be made accountable, for they are playing with talent, that can't be counted in lakhs or crores. A statutory body to ensure that children aren't made unfortunate pawns in the games of elders must be set up. It can also ensure that quality levels are maintained.

5) Parents should be educated on how to deal with their own children. Multimedia platforms should be leveraged to achieve this.

What is success, failure?

Every life is precious. Let us not ruin it by assigning arbitrary standards of 'success' and 'failure', for these are not absolute but subjective.There is no one final 'success' in life that we are aiming for, nor is a failure the end of everything. Success is every achievement at every moment; failure is a success too, the success of having got a chance to learn, of being on the step that will launch us to greater heights.

UPDATE on July 2 at 1 am


  1. Good post there. Nice job.

    We all dream of achieving great success in our life.

    Children must be thought to deal with failures in life as much as they are thought to deal with success. Only then can there be a balance in life.

  2. I could never bear to watch these shows and still dont....it is true that one gets to see a lot of talented children but eventually they dont win for many reasons.

    After all, it is money in the end... money for the sponsors,the judges, the mobile companies and the Channel itself. The price money is peanuts when compared to the rest. Let them make money, but not this way.

    I hope atleast with this incident, we see less of these "reality" shows.

  3. Reality shows are almost inhuman. The school and the local community are the best places to nurture that wonderful talent in all kids, and that's how we can let childhood thrive as it should

  4. A good post. I agree with your argument. Dreaming is important. Getting prepared for failure is equally so, in order to make one a stronger and more successful person.

  5. i am not a fan of reality shows at all . I haven't even watched indian idol-1 or roadies for that matter.
    all i can say is that its not only the organizers are to be blamed....children, parents, relatives everyone is over-ambitious and pushing hard...they make it a question of prestige. Also i feel these days children are being far too sensitive. I know this by experience as i am a teacher and the kids are just over pampered and over stressed and very touchy about even small things.

  6. This types of inhuman shows should be stop now. I have seen the arogant judge's picture in Times now. I greatly dislikes those 3 judges and highly condemn their brutal, inhuman and arogant mentality.

  7. -- Anon: Yes, focus on failure is as much important as success

    -- Happy Kitten: Even I have never been able to stand the reality shows. The worse is the voting, by SMS, no limit on the number of SMSs that can be sent!

    -- Swarna: A good point. High-pressure telecasts aren't the right place to nurture talent.

    -- Dipu: Thanks.

    -- Ranjana: Sure, all must take the blame. A lot of it is on parents.

    -- Sanjib: O yes, some regulation is in order, at least now.

  8. Ok its fine to take a stand against reality shows. I watch and enjoy it. Hundreds of people participate. Just bec one kid fell ill u dont blast the program. If u cant take pressure dont go. No one is compelling. So many people have got career openings after doing the program.

  9. I think what we are all somehow lacking in our education regardless of where we grew up is learning how to cope with failure. But what stroke me in India is that failure is even a bigger taboo, a kid can't fail, thye have to be the best everywhere and it starts from KG, so much that one negative comment can shatter one like a house of card.
    I remember one wise teacher back in switzerland, I was in highschool then and report cards were due to go out, and here is what he said to a class were about 75% of us were in failure : "Kids you are my best class ever, and you haven't even got a clue why yet. But you guys have the power because for about 75% of you you will see what failure is, yes 75% of you guys didn't make it this first trimester. But stumbling along the path is a great motivator, and you will come out stronger out of it. What's more a stumble along the path of life make victories even sweeter"
    Yes our main teacher was congratulating us for failing our trimestrial exams! And guess what? the next trimester no one was in the failure zone, we all got the booster we needed with his prep talk. He gave us a valuable lesson with this speech, he made us accept that failure do occur and that it's how we cope with it that makes all the difference. A thing all teacher and parents should teach their kids, especially in today's world where competition has never been fiercer.

  10. These shows are the pits. Like Happy Kitten, I don't watch them after having given them a shot. They neither nourish talent nor encourage a healthy competitive spirit. The judges can be harsh or go the other extreme and not give a correct assessment - though this is better than hurting.
    Pushy and greedy parents are in the main responsible for this. Not everyone can win, and if their children lose, the parents cannot bear it. And blame the show(for rigging), the judges and everyone around.
    Am happy that the government is thinking of some guidelines for these shows.

  11. I agree with Cynthia, but let us not treat the "reality shows" as classrooms.

    Even if the judges are well qualified (still not comparable to the dedicated teachers that you mentioned) and is trying to help the children perform better, there are many other factors controlling the show. We are talking about fierce competition amongst many (channels, mobile companies, sponsors etc.) while the participants are just pawns amongst them.

    Can we ignore the fact that in the end it is not the best that is selected? For most shows SMS rules the shows.

    But then in the present world where lip-lynching and pre-recorded songs are enough to keep the audience enthralled, I guess these talents are enough to go out in to the world.

  12. -- Sunil: I do appreciate that such programmes are watched by a number, and it doesn't surprise me that such programmes are also enjoyed by a number of people. The point we are trying to make is about the way it is conducted. The pitfalls of it should not outweigh any good. To say if u can't the pressure don't go is fine. But about the plight of kids who participate? Should there be check on what they are exposed to. Can we be so insensitive?

    -- Cyn: That was one inspirational story. Failures do teach u a lot. You couldn't have been more right. Only that these shows should be inspirational . The high pressure atmosphere has some in-built dangers which must be taken care of. I doubt if these shows have anyone like the teacher you mentioned.

    -- Raji: let us hope that some regulations are brought in

    -- Happy Kitten: very valid point about SMSes. I wonder why no one is challenging this unfair method.

  13. I think those shows need a few professionnal councellor and psycologists working in the back stage, because the show is simple "Only one can win" And this can be though to cope with your failure broadcasted nation wide too, plus as Happy Kitten said it's not always the best that wins, but the most popular, I don't have anything wrong with this notion, because life isn't always fair.
    But for many of those kids entering, it is as if it was their only shot at catching their dream, and many will give up after making it short in those shows. having aprofessional guide them and tell them it's ok to loose and that it doesn't mean their dream is dead after one flop, is essential.
    A little competition is always healthy, but too much as it is the case in those reality show is a very dangerous bet.

  14. With so much of money thrown in such contests I doubt the popularity will go down.

    A good post indeed.

  15. As a matter of fact, Roadies is banned in my house. Visitors in my house are asked to watch it alone, and not in front of my children. During other reality shows, I keep telling my children that these comments by 'experts' are not to be taken literally, the so called 'protege-ization' is unhealthy. But the trend is bad.

  16. -- Cyn: True, the issue is whether exposing kids to this amount of pressure is right or not... if at all it's needed then there should be enough safeguards.

    -- Mampi: It's good to advice kids who watch the programme. But question is how many parents will do it. Probably this sort of warning could be incorporated into the programme itself.

  17. Really, that is sad. I heard abt shingini online. TV9 had done one of it's programs on the v same topic with psychiatrists. Your views are quite true. Gr8 post.

  18. Great post. Totally agree with you, and have written on this. sickening. It's as though private lives are becoming stage dramas. Can't our showmen think of new and less intrusive ideas?

  19. Best way is parents being with children while watching such programs. Every child is different and every program can cause different impact on children. Hence parent's judgement will help to avoid any adverse impact of reality shows on children

  20. I made a few changes & my daughter learnt this, for her school elocution competition.She stood third ! Thank you !

    1. Hi Vasudha,

      I am glad that my write-up was useful and it helped your daughter win a prize. Congratulations!

      I am also thankful to you for being kind enough to acknowledge that you did make use of my blog post for the competition. It's a very good gesture, which not many people would have bothered to do. Thank you. Wishing you and your daughter the best.