Chai Khana: The Public Square

Children of the world

A few years ago, perhaps towards the end of the last decade, I remember understated but urgent requests coming in from young parents to others like them — stop putting out your children’s pictures on the internet. The fear of child porn and the knowledge of enabling perverts and paedophiles were given as legitimate reasons. Aware parents also removed innocuous photographs of naked children, once considered as the purest form of innocence.

The conversation then started about how much of your children should you put out for the world to see? A world, which surely, wasn’t all cookies and cream, and had every known and unknown danger lurking even within virtual walls.

This week, power couple Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli, requested privacy for their baby and even urged the gathered paparazzi to not click the baby’s pictures. It’s been a concerted effort by the couple to protect the child from media glare and allow her to “live her life freely away from media and social media”. The parents’ attitude is understandable after all not everyone is a Michael Jackson dangling his kid from the balcony for photographers to have a go. The behaviour of those who still used Vamika’s pictures to grab attention is deplorable, and to put it succinctly, cheap!

Unfortunately, also present today is the allure of making money off your child. Take 10-year-old Youtuber Ryan Kaji who has built an empire through his Youtube channel. He is the highest-paid Youtube star for three consecutive years, earning USD 30 million last year. For some, it’s about keeping their children away from prying eyes, but for many others, it’s about using that same media to earn a few brand endorsements and target a new group of followers. Anushka and Virat don’t need it, but check out the mommy bloggers who don’t shy away from sharing cutesy reels of their progeny. There are some influencers who hide the child’s actual face but put out the rest of the content anyway. I find that truly defeats the cause of protecting their privacy because the children have not consented to be advertised. But hey, their kid, their show, what the hell do I know?

The question however remains, how much is too much? While the proliferation of seedy websites that misuse kids’ pictures has dipped, thanks in part to the vigilant action taken by search engines such as Google, it’s not completely vanished. Children are now also exposed to the outside world with its many charms and harms much early on in life. Today, a child is more comfortable with a tablet than a bat. It’s sad but true that parents while trying to keep their kids occupied have willingly handed over their smartphones and tablets for them to browse the virtual world. The amount of time that children spent on the internet obviously increased exponentially during the pandemic. We can’t blame the hapless parents. Between their own work-from-home and no domestic help during last year’s lockdowns to the countless hours of online classes for their kids, many parents took the easier route — give the phone/tablet, let children play with it a few hours, and give the parents their daily rest!

With more awareness of the internet and social media, many children are now demanding their own social media public pages and accounts. This request sends parents into a tizzy as I recently noticed on an acquaintance’s Facebook post. Her kid wanted her own Youtube channel and public social media page, and the worried parent sought the opinion of others. And she isn’t the only one. There are others who are baffled by similar demands from their kids. Private social media accounts have some checks and balances but public pages allow strangers access to the children unless the parents man the pages with a hawk eye. It’s also proven by numerous studies, including secret ones conducted by social media giants such as Facebook-owned Instagram, that social media has a negative effect on a child’s mental health. They led children and teenagers to develop body-image issues that in turn caused anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

There are so many wonderful reasons to be out there in the public space — a platform to express your identity, voice your thoughts, showcase your talent, or simply have some fun. But the perils outweigh the good, where children are concerned. Kids will have their entire adult life to deal with maleficence and sordid matters; they shouldn’t have to start from childhood. Treading with caution and protecting the few years of ‘childhood’ should not be optional but persevered with a vengeance.

 

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