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Having candid discussions on what a child is reading or watching — and what they think about certain themes and plot points — can help a parent to understand what they are going through emotionally, say experts.

A double murder in Lucknow city rocked the nation last month. Besides the grisly nature of the crime itself, it shocked many that the teenage girl — who allegedly gunned down her mother and brother — was purportedly inspired by a character featuring in a novel by Japanese author Osamu Dazai.

Children are impressionable. Some, if not all, live out their fantasies mainly through the content they consume on the internet, on television, and in the books they read. A child’s formative years — and all the way up to teenage — are crucial, since they shape their personality. As such, does it become important for parents to monitor what they are reading, watching, and are generally exposed to? And how can they successfully do it, without coming across as overbearing and overprotective?

A Gurugram-based mother, on the condition of anonymity, tells indianexpress.com that her teenager is a big anime — also sometimes referred to as ‘Japanimation’ — fan. She suggests that having open conversations with children on what is age-appropriate for them, is necessary.

“My daughter is a gifted child, so the conversations we have had with her have always been mature. I feel that while Japanese culture is beautiful, it comes with its own complications, as is the case with every other culture. When a culture is introduced to a child from their parents, they get a softer landing, as opposed to if they were to experience it on their own.

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“From the very beginning we had many discussions with our daughter, who had discovered anime when she was really young. Initially, I was taken aback because I found it loud and graphic. My daughter explored it as an artist; she aspires to pursue the ‘manga’ art form. And while I want her to succeed — having been involved with her in the early years, when she would procure her books — I have always gone through the books myself first. Also, we had had a policy wherein I was allowed to take away some pages. We would mutually agree that it was not something that we wanted her to be exposed to right now,” she shares.

She goes on to say that children naturally get attached to certain anime characters, and start relating to them. “My daughter views them from the prism of art, and understands that it is but a story. But can every child think like that? I cannot guarantee,” she says.

In 2014, an article by Nebojsa Mandrapa for the Novak Djokovic Foundation noted that “children who view shows in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated or unpunished, are more likely to imitate what they see. Experts from the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) say that kids who watch cartoons full of violence tend to be nervous, aggressive and disobedient. Moreover, these children are impatient.”

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Author Tanu Shree Singh is of the opinion that it is always a good idea to talk to children about everything. “Let’s say you are watching a movie together and something happens… Let the child express what they think and feel about a particular character. To have that general conversation is necessary, but to breathe down their neck won’t be practical. The idea is to equip them with the judgment, so that they are able to make their choices correctly. And if they make a mistake, they can learn from it and move on, and not latch on to it.

“The role of parents is to help them have that agency, so they can see what is working for them and what is not,” she tells indianexpress.com.

Parents are curators

President of Amar Chitra Katha Preeti Vyas says that some parents have this misconception that because their child is reading something, they must continue it because it is a good habit. “They let their children read anything they like. But, just like how you wouldn’t allow your child to watch any movie which has an adult rating, you cannot allow them to read something that is not for their age, either. A parent’s role is that of a curator. They must play an active role in monitoring what their child is consuming,” she says.

“As authors and publishers, I definitely feel there is a moral and ethical responsibility, when you decide to publish books for children, because you are influencing a child’s mind; the repercussions can be scary. It is important to understand all aspects of how that piece of content would be perceived and understood,” Vyas adds.

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Age appropriateness of any content is significant, because the child must have the cognitive ability to discern facts from fantasies.

Dr Himani Khanna, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician, and Director & Co-founder of Continua Kids believes incidents like the Lucknow case are absolutely avoidable.

“Besides monitoring, parents have to be aware of the guidelines. For instance, a child cannot have any social media account before the age of 13. And if the child has an account, the parent can also make their own account on the platform to find out what kind of content they are posting. Parents must also have some kind of access to their laptops or desktops, the sites they are browsing online, etc. When it comes to books, parents are buying it for them, so they are aware of the content. Talking about online safety, cyber bullying, and how they can protect themselves is important. It alerts the child and they know that they can ask their parents about the right way to go about it,” she advises.

Helicopter parenting

Sometimes, anxious parents keep hovering — they keep a tab of everything that their child does. This could lead to arguments, especially with teenagers. Dr Khanna says helicopter parenting could be a parent’s way of overcompensating for anything that they missed out during their childhood. “This can sometimes lead to low self-esteem and self-confidence in a child. Some children also turn hostile and start doing exactly the opposite of what their parents ask them to do. It is important to allow the child to make age-appropriate decisions and choices. As parents, we can give them all the information and help them make informed choices on their own, rather than to push our choices onto them,” she says.

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