Thursday, November 10, 2011

Iron what!?

When I was a 11 year old boy if anybody asked me about my favorite television shows my quick response would be 'Hawaii five o', 'Man from U.N.C.L.E.', 'The green horn' , ‘Little House on the Prairie’, ‘Incredible Hulk’ , and obviously all the cartoons (mind you I was in Dhaka and there was only one government run TV channel). The unfortunate part was that we didn’t have a TV and we (me and my two siblings) watched TV only when we visited some of our relatives who had one. Today you say that to a kid s/he would probably have a mild stroke wondering how anybody could survive without the latest edition of the game consoles, late alone a worthless TV. Well, that's what technology does to us. It gives us convenience, pleasure, entertainment and tons of other great stuff, but in return also demands a lot. It changes us in the core, make us dependant - craving for more, hooked into the magic of it all, and often make us sacrifice other equally great things like outdoor activities.

I believe today's kids are smarter. Not that they carry more gray materials than their ancestors but they definitely are making it work harder, whether in video games or computer games or other challenging virtual activities. There was a time when the challenge was limited to cognitive tasks but those days are long gone. Some of these game consoles now are equipped to provide much better workouts than one can get even in a gym. One of my favorite is the Wii Olympic Games that allows virtual sprinting against the computer generated characters or another person. A few of these races can easily give enough workouts to pause for a break (this is not a Wii commercial). Games like these are good (better than the Call of Duty type war games that while may help with increased reflex and observation barely burns any calorie) as long as they are not the only activities that the kids are engaged in.

In our social circle any discussion about the kids brings up their schools (the terms college and university are in sight but not yet a part). It is a common opinion of the parents (who are first generation immigrants) that the school work here is ludicrously light. The kids rarely have homework and once returned home acted as if they had nothing better to do in life than to watch TV. When we were kids we were burdened with loads of homework, additional science and Math lessons by a house tutor, some more reading this and writing that for my mother who was too hung up on studies. With no TV in the house there wasn’t a whole lot to do anyway and I studied until it was supper time, every day. (The outcome wasn’t terribly bad – being the top scoring kid in class had its advantage too; teachers liked me, girls asked for favors).

Nevertheless, the overloading had some negative impact on me as well. When I got older at times I had to push myself hard to continue with my studies as some sort of reluctance had built up deep inside me. Yet, I am not fully convinced that the elementary/middle school educational system here is optimized. Conceptually I agree with the idea to have the kids do most of the studies in the class and have a life outside, at least until they are ready to handle the higher workload without getting traumatized. However, then there are those times when I get tired of watching the school going kids spending too much time before a TV or playing games on a computer, something that can easily be eliminated with regular homework. Yes, of course as parents we can force them into doing some extra work but often they feel sad and burdened. Both Mili and I have struggled over the years to get the kids do some studies at home. Our rate of success improves depending on many factors, primarily how they felt on a particular day.

Anyway, I have drifted away from what I wanted to say. Let’s get back on track. One of our main concern with the otherwise wonderful kids (oh well, they are often kind of annoying, perhaps a little self centered, sometimes too noisy, definitely very tardy, always demanding but won’t even move a pinky when I asked for anything, I can go on and on) is that they watch too much TV, particularly annoying is the fact that the kid’s shows that they usually watch come packed with inappropriate gestures, story lines and even passionate kisses. Okay, as parents it again becomes our responsibility to censor but if the TV networks conspire against us what can we really do? Shows that seem quite appropriate one day suddenly grow up into teenage drama with alarmingly high level of romance – all that love-hate-jealousy permutations and combinations. It is quite apparent that instead of taking a role where network TV could actually become a partner with the parents in raising these kids with a better sense of childhood they are much more interested in giving in to hormonal temptations and feed the young population increasingly more of that precocious romantic melodrama which obviously brings more viewer with more ad money and possibly higher benefits to the executives. (I know I am starting to sound like another jealous schmuck unnecessarily trying to take a swing at the poor network executives). Often I get so pissed off that I feel perhaps the ordinary parents need to come up with a class A type lawsuits against these networks for promoting inappropriate behavior on TV shows aimed at kids younger than eighteen. There should be a limit to everything. Especially considering the fact that the demography in GTA is very diverse with increasingly more population swarming in from regions of the world that are known for having relatively more conservative views of life. Network TV need to learn to respect their views and adjust its own pattern of programming to be appropriate.

I often take up a strategy of openness (to a certain point) to take the mystery out of things, especially when it has anything to with the kids. They are inherently wired to do things that we don’t want them to do, often their curious minds undermining the risks involved (getting us mad, of course). I allowed them to watch some of the controversial lovey-dovey shows thinking perhaps they would learn to disregard the inappropriate parts. Often it does become difficult to manage all the content that they watch. For the sake of parental sanity some slack had to be given. Mili, on the other hand, is much tougher and mercilessly tried to censor shows unless she was too busy, or too tired or simply frustrated with all these constant observation (and acting like a jailer). If you can’t rely on a family channel to deliver appropriate content how can you continue?

Stop. I am drifting again.
All I wanted to say is that one fine evening what I noticed that not only surprised me but perhaps alarmed me a little as well. Zakeem was watching Iron Chef – the culinary program where the Iron Chef competed against a guest chef to please three judges who at the end of the show declared one of the competitors as winner. The Iron chef himself is a big white guy with big belly and a less than cute face running around with pots and pans and frying this, baking that, chopping this, slicing that … all kind of cooking stuff. No cute looking girls flirting with cute looking guys, no kissy-issy, cat walk and other sexual teasing. This was quite relieving. Both Mili and I have been scratching our heads trying to find a good reasonable solution without having to program the TV for censoring practically everything. None of us was in favor of such hardcore censoring. The way our hands played out seemed to be quite pleasing. Zakeem, in his preteen, has been our main concern. Seeing him hooked on cooking shows was much more relieving than him ogling half naked girls in teen/preteen sitcoms.

However, when at one point of the show Zakeem excitedly declared that he was definitely going to become a chef, I was slightly alarmed. Nothing against the chefs. Great profession, good money if you can get to that level, wonderful potential if you can start your own restaurant somewhere at the heart of New York (that’s where I hear all the big and famous restaurants are). The only problem is I had other plans for him. Yep, that’s the right mindset of a parent from third world countries. We plan for our kids, obviously for their good and sacrifice a lot to make it happen. Agreed I have deviated quite a bit from my original plans for Zak over the years – from medical sergeant to chartered accountant to movie maker. I had never even considered the possibility of becoming a Chef. Concerned but not enough to readily jump into this issue I refrained from making any comments. Zakeem is one of those kids who doesn’t say a lot and doesn’t do a lot. He likes drawing and that’s the only thing he does with quite a bit of passion outside his studies. I don’t see him running around in a room full with pantries trying to cook some delicious dishes for his patrons. Drawing something up on the dinner plates with pen, pencil or a brush – possible but food? A total no-no scenario.
In the next few days I noticed him watching these shows with increasing interest. Farheen had little interest in food and hates practically everything and anything to do with food. She craves for the regular hormone high shows – not sure how much she actually understood. Often fights break down between the siblings on choosing the channel which is usually handled by their mother by turning the whole magic box off.

A few days have passed since my discovery. Good thing is Zakeem has reconsidered his position on becoming a chef and agreed that he could learn some cooking on the side while going for other things that he was more interested in (things that I planned for him, of course!).

What did he want to be – came the next question. Perhaps a game maker, he confidently mentioned. He is working on the characters. Not exactly what my plan is but not too far from it either. I gave my full approval adding that making a movie is not too much different than making a game and can actually provide access to much bigger audience and turn one rich and famous and respected like Steven Spielberg who made some of those wonderful kids movies.
He shrugged. Perhaps. 

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