Consumerism and Children
Consumerism intensifies one’s desire; and even if one’s resources are limited, it is difficult to resist the lure of the mythologies beneath these desires. The market targets the vulnerable minds of young children. And even those who are not from elite schools get affected, and this leads to all sorts of negative consequences. A young educator—with his keen observation and analysis—has raised a set of critical issues which are bound to make us think.
By Ishpreet Singh
I taught in Gangotri Public School, a small private school that operates classes from LKG to standard VIII. It is one of the hundreds of schools that operate in small bylanes in the not-so-fancy areas of Delhi—Jamna Paar.To reach my school via metro, you will have to de-board at Seelampur metro station and take a ride on an e-rickshaw, which will take anything from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the traffic. The Brahampuri main road, which is the central connecting road, is crowded with a variety of shops lining both sides of the street. Best Halal Shop. Jain Button Store. Sharma Plastic Store. AlamMoradabadi – Biryani Waale. Some nameless. Some wall-less. Some people less. This is a first glimpse you will get into capitalism bleeding over its edges. The shops are trying to create a demand that doesn’t exist, trying to create jobs that shouldn’t be, jobs that are given to 10 and 12 year olds who travel for two days without ticket from Darbhanga in Bihar to Jamnaa Paar in Delhi. The excesses and inefficiencies of the system would become pretty evident as you venture deeper. The sight of garbage overflowing out of the store house or the open garbage dumping sites at every 100 metres would make you question: What is the meaning of this sort of modernization and urbanization?
The exact location of the school is inside a small lane where the Brhampuri Main Road ends. A lane wide enough to fit just one auto rickshaw. In this “one-way” lane stands a three storey building with a total of 27 classrooms catering to eight grades and approximately 600 children. Government approved. Children usually come from nearby areas, such as Khadde Wali Masjid, Tikaram GhoreWali Gali, Arvind Nagar, Jagjit Nagar and Moni Baba Mandir. Among all these densely populated streets exist colonies with over-brimming flats, colonies with subtle gates, colonies that have ghettoed themselves organically, but overtly on the lines of their sect and on economic class. These colonies are unlike the ones in South Ex or Gurgaon, with fences laced with barbed wires, and with gates as big as the ones that may be guarding heaven from hell. One visit to the area would make anyone realise how this city is bursting at its seams, and there seems to be no room for more. And, yet 75000 people migrate every year to make Delhi its home. The glamour of capitalism and consumerism at display in the malls of Saket and Gurgaon is non-existent, but the effects of this purposeless consumerism are profound.
We all know that we now intake things based on our desires rather than our needs. As someone who taught 9 and 10 year olds, I saw this playing out in front of my eyes for the past two years in the lives of my children. Let us take a look at its effects on the children.
Diet – For a child, the quality of diet plays an important role in shaping not only his physical health, but his mental abilities too. Due to lack of awareness among parents about the effect of balanced diet on health, most of them consider a plate full of any edible substance, be it biryani or maggi or pasta, as a good meal. In the morning children often skip meals or have tea on an empty stomach, sometimes clubbed with a biscuit or two. Mothers are so hard pressed for time that they often end up cooking maggi, pasta or bread sandwiches for lunch. There are other reasons too why these items are kept in the blue and green factory-produced Ben 10 covered lunch boxes that every child seems to possess. The flavour of these food items is such that children love these packed foods; and they get addicted to their taste. Moreover, they are cheaper than a wholesome meal. A packet of maggi or pasta costs a lot less than a wholesome meal, a wholesome meal that consists of dal,sabzi, roti, salad and curd. This leads to minor and major health problems for children not only in GautamVihar, but across Delhi as well. A 2005-’06 National Family Health Survey showed nearly half of India’s children were stunted. In early 2014, the non-profit CRY released the findings of its survey which monitored the growth of 3,650 children in Delhi’s slums over one year. Of the 36% of children found malnourished, 33% children suffered from severe acute malnutrition, a condition that can cause permanent physical and mental damage, even death.
Even though the students I taught come from “low-income families”, most of them consumed some form of junk food in the recess. The amount of O’ yes, Lays, Kurkure, Chatley packets littered around dustbin after recess would bear testimony to this fact. During the recess, another sight common in the school ground is long queues to buy Chole Kulche. Atleast 20% children in each class bought Chole Kulche during break. We all know that improper diet can severely affect the cognitive development of the brain.
Brand Awareness – Even in a low-income school like mine, I couldn’t help but notice high levels of brand awareness. A lot of the students, especially boys, were familiar with all the major brands. Most of them were fascinated by Apple iPhones and laptops, and knew these are the costly ones. They knew and talked about BMWs, Ferraris and Audis. I couldn’t help but notice how these desires, being perpetuated through movies, songs and stickers in chips packets, would help establish brand loyalty as these children grow up. And the corporations must be looking at children as a potential target, and must be trying to create an influence on their vulnerable minds.
By the time students had reached 5th grade most of them had access to cellphones. And by 6th grade some had access to smartphones and internet. During one of the conversations, the issue of betting money on “pen-fights” and other games came about. How shocking it was! For a child who comes to school, a cell phone serves very little utilitarian purpose. All that children do these days is just consume information. Parents are buying touch screen phones because they want to show off. Most of them don’t know what android is and who runs it. They don’t know what a play store or chrome is. But children do. And this age-inappropriate exposure places them in the vicinity of multiple risks. Adult content. Online bullying. Furthermore, as they constantly exercise their thumbs on phones and games, it affects their physical growth. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that this sort of consumption, particularly for the poor, alters their prirorities. Healthy food is sacrificed, and the money is spent in buying android smartphones or video games.
The problems, it is obvious, are intermingled with each other. And the only way to solve these issues is to first understand them. And this understanding can’t happen by reading and liking articles online. We need a bunch of committed people willing to teach in these schools, work in these dispensaries, sit in the MCD offfices, and create a new awareness.