It’s my choice, or is it?

“Who would like to come forward and solve the maths problem on the board?”, teacher asked the class. Mishal raised his hand confidently. Teacher gestured to him and handed over her chalk. Within minutes, Mishal solved the maths problem. Then, to everyone’s shock, he turned around and flung the piece of chalk away and dusted his hands. His face wore an arrogant look. While Mishal’s solution to the problem was correct, the teacher was too upset about his behavior. Something had gone into his head. She was speechless for a while and then asked the class “has everyone understood the solution to the problem?” All students nodded their heads and the bell rang. The teacher, while leaving the class, softly whispered to Mishal and asked him to meet in the staff room after school. After school, the maths teacher told Mishal that his behavior after solving the problem was unacceptable and that she needed to talk to his parents. Mishal left the room without any guilt or realization that he had done something wrong. He had always been an intelligent student and also good at sports!

The next day, Mishal’s dad met the maths teacher. She explained that his behavior was inappropriate and that he had also been bullying his classmates who were low-performing in studies or sports. Dad felt apologetic and highly concerned about his child’s behavior. He was sure Mishal had picked this attitude from somewhere.

Few days later, Mishal’s dad was watching television when an advertisement for a certain health drink appeared on the screen. The boy in the advertisement was shown to be solving a maths problem and he too, turned around and flung the chalk away! Dad felt his heart racing. The Maths teacher’s words rang louder in his ears. Dad switched off the television and rushed to the kitchen to find the same bottle shown in the health drink advertisement. Dad knew what exactly was happening with Mishal. At the dinner table, dad asked Mishal and his mom if they really needed to buy that health drink every month. Mishal mentioned that the health drink had ‘nutrients’ which helped him “grow better, stronger and cleverer”.

Dad got the bottle of the health drink and asked Mishal to turn the bottle and read out the so-called ‘nutrients’ the health drink powder offered. He then asked Mishal to think about other sources of the same nutrients. Mishal was surprised to find that the nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals mentioned on the bottle were also found in many other fruits, vegetables and grains! Rather, the details on the bottle revealed high levels of sugar present in the powder. Dad asked Mishal again “Do you really need to buy this health drink powder?” Mishal, still in shock, whispered a soft ‘no’.

Mishal was convinced that the health drink powder did not offer anything different than fruits, vegetables and grains which are naturally available. The taste is all that makes it appear tempting. Mishal’s dad had won only half the battle. He still had to make Mishal unlearn the attitude Mishal had picked up from the advertisement. Teaching Mishal to be humble and empathic was the next challenge.

Mishal’s story plays in many families today. From buying the best quality, health foods to branded shoes, stationery, etc., advertising agencies leave no stone unturned in alluring potential customers. But how do we respond? Do we fall for the advertising gimmicks or ask ourselves whether we really need that product? Are we allowing media to colour or choices? Do we consume more than what we really need or make informed choices depending on our needs, finances and concern to the environment? Do we really understand what impact media and advertising make on our children?

Whether or not to buy a certain health drink or anything for that matter, is a personal choice. But thinking about the message in an advertisement, the intent of the creators of the media, the traps, the details of a certain product, values shown in the advertisement are all a part of media literacy. Media literacy is being able to read and critically analyze different perspectives of a certain product in print or digital media. Media literacy is a part of the 21st century learning skills. It is not only for the children to learn. As adults, we too need to be media literate. It helps in developing values of empathy, concern and humility in society- all of which are a need of the hour.

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hot_chocolate_p1150797.jpg, credits: David Monniaux, license: CC-BY-SA 2.0-FR

Author: Rohini Karandikar.

Views presented in the article are personal.

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