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Seven–year–old Priya leads a full life. Her days are filled with school, piano, karate, swimming classes and “lots of TV”. For, Priya’s parents believe that “So much exposure is necessary for a child’s overall development–necessary in today’s competitive world’. And when Priya gets home, she is either dressing up like her favorite VJ Malika, lip syncing the lines of her favorite song on MTV or merely flicking channels in rapid succession. It is the same scene even when her friends come over to play.

No rough and tumble games for these kids. Emulating the grown up world is more their cup of tea. These kids are also wise beyond their years. Faced with an onslaught of sexual imagery and innuendoes, street smarts are not the only things these kids pick up along the way. They are also attaining maturity faster. Could this also be a plausible factor in the attainment of faster physical maturity? Dr Vaman Khadilkar has a theory on the sexualization of children. “When kids are exposed to an onslaught of sexual imagery, which was not so a generation ago, early physical maturity occurs. This has been particularly noticeable in young girls who have been attaining physical maturity much earlier than when their mother’s did”, says Dr. Khadilkar.

Though there has been no conclusive evidence to support this view, it is an opinion held by others as well. “This is because no research or study has been done to validate the theory. But if subsequent interest is generated, it will yield some very interesting results”, says Dr Khadilkar.

Fifty years ago, almost no one had a television set. Now, an entire generation has grown up watching televised images of sex and anarchy. The results are imperceptibly intertwined with psychological development. Our kids are growing up de–sensitized to violence and a much greater awareness of the outside world. But would this really affect the way hormones work? After all aren't hormones also affected by “Outside influences?”

However, psychiatrist Suparna Telang feels differently. “True kids are growing up much faster, Mentally. They are much more aware and are being bombarded with a lot of graphic imagery, sexual and otherwise. But to say that this leads to faster physical maturity is not correct. Physical maturity is dependent to a large extent on hormones. And these have been working for thousands of years. To say that suddenly, in the course of one generation, they can be activated faster because of a certain mental stimulus is incorrect”.

“Certain environmental factors like food habits, a very hot or cold climate can hurry or delay the onset of physical maturity. However, hormones are not so delicate that they can be directly influenced by the mental make–up which has in turn been influenced by the media. The media, as well as changing cultural mores have ensured faster mental maturity. But to say that this spurs on physical development faster is challenging biological cycles”, continues Telang.

There is no question that the media is a powerful teacher, the only question is, what is it teaching? How can we, as parents, control the TV beast so that our children and teenagers will learn good, healthy attitudes from what they view? Even the hugely popular Cartoon Network is not without criticism and has its fair share of violent toons. The impression which is being beamed to kids is that violence can be justified, good guys are allowed to use violence and that it doesn’t hurt.

Whether it is cultural changes or the media which is to blame, the fact is that kids are being bombarded with way too much information. However, the worry about kids being influenced by their environment is very real. The changes–physical and mental might still be debatable but their impact on a child’s development is not something to be taken lightly.