Alternative Stories / Interview

Rachel Prabhakar: Perpective from a Jewish-Hindu household

Here’s another story of a family where there are intentional alternatives to the popular culture.  The world is not “media-saturated” for these children.  In fact, Rachel Prabhakar , who lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two daughters, ages  10 and 7,  says she hasn’t had a conversation with a parent about television in a long time.  Of course, just because it isn’t being discussed, doesn’t mean there are no concerns.

What is your experience with children and faith communities?

I have worked with children teaching Hebrew school, and volunteering in my daughter’s preschool and elementary school classrooms.

What would you say have been the major influences in your thinking, either individual or traditions?

Well, I’m Jewish and my husband is Hindu. I would say that I have been influenced by both traditions.

So, I see you are very much in the middle of this question of influences on children in a personal way.

Yes, indeed.

What would you say is your greatest concern about the effect of commercialized culture, particularly through media, in the spiritual formation of children, in the sense of fully human rather than exclusively in the strictly religious sense?

I’m concerned about the pushing of materialistic values. I’m also concerned about the levels of violence and sexualization of children as portrayed in television and other media outlets.

What resources do your backgrounds bring to that in your family?

I would say that our Jewish community really hasn’t had much to say about the topic. We were involved in a small Jewish community in Brattleboro, VT; there it wasn’t really on the radar screen.  In Australia, it also wasn’t part of the discussion in the community, as far as I could see.  We aren’t part of a Hindu community – we now live in a small town in New Hampshire, where there aren’t many other Hindus. But in terms of resources, there are wonderful books, audiobooks and comics from India that we enjoy with our girls. They tend to have non-materialistic values, and don’t sexualize children at all. On the other hand, much of the mythology is violent.  Mythology, all over the world, tends to be violent. It is, of course, possible to Bowdlerize the content, but then you have something inauthentic. Children can feel that lack of authenticity

In India, there are a wonderful series of comics, the Amar Chitra Katha, that present mythology, epics, biographies of important historical figures, and legends from different communities in comic book form. The colors are a bit lurid, and the paper tends to fall apart, but the language is often quite rich and they are usually visually quite interesting.  Our girls loved them.  At first, I was worried about the level of violence. But then I found that the girls just weren’t focusing on that.  There are other aspects of the comics that aren’t part of everyday life – for example, sages standing on one leg praying for 1,000 years – and gods battling with demons just kind of slid in there too.  In their imaginative play, they never focused on violence.

Your point about the violence in mythology reflects the thinking of the storyteller Laura Simms, a Buddhist who will also be on this site, that children understand the violence and what we consider sexism in fairy tales and mythology very differently from our perception

That’s an interesting point. I’ll look forward to reading Laura Simms views.

They see themselves in the whole story and it isn’t the strong gratuitous violence of screen media.

Yes, and I think that a book form, or even a comic book form, leaves more to the imagination than a television program or movie.

Do you think it would help if your faith community broached this question?  Perhaps there could be some media literacy integrated into the Hebrew school curriculum?

Possibly.  Personally, we don’t have television at our house, and the girls don’t watch many movies.  We also don’t have Nintendo or other video games.  We have a few computer games, but the girls don’t seem all that interested in them.

Q: Are there questions about what happens when your girls go to other homes?  Do conversations happen around why you don’t have television? Any pressure from the children?

When the girls were younger, pre-school age, I was very worried that by raising them in such a different environment, we would be turning them into social freaks.  It was also challenging sometimes when they went to friends’ houses. Movies or television programs that other children viewed as background noise often scared them.  However, as they have gotten older, it has just become our normal life.  Neither girl has ever asked for television.  They have lots of friends, and it just doesn’t seem to be an issue for them.  Of course, I don’t know how things will change as they start to enter adolescence.  As to conversations with the children about why we don’t have television, yes, we’ve talked with the children about our views.  They seem happy with that.

When the girls were pre-school age, often parents would say things like, “Wow, that’s amazing that you don’t have TV! I wish we could do that, but there’s no way.” Parents seemed to feel a bit guilty about what they seemed to feel was using the TV as a babysitter, but at the same time felt they couldn’t cope any other way. From my point of view, I don’t feel that I’m in any way judging any other parent. I don’t find it difficult to not have TV, but that’s just who we are – my husband and I – and I understand that every family is different. As the girls have gotten older, and they and their peers are involved in more activities, such as sports and music, the whole issue has faded into the background. It just rarely comes up. I haven’t had a conversation with another parent about TV in ages.

What do you think would help communities see their role in the society at large as well as with their members, who might be in difficulty but unwilling to speak about this?  Though the best curative is the communication and intentionality you speak of, our children have to live in a world with others who have ingested violence, sexuality and commercial culture on a daily basis and that has shaped their view of life and relationships.

That’s a really interesting question you raise, about how faith communities can integrate teachings on this topic.  I do agree with you that for myself, and the maybe 2 other families I know who have opted out of TV, this is just our normal life and we don’t need to spend more time on it.  I certainly don’t see myself as an evangelist.  Rather, my focus with my children is more on teaching respect for different cultures and views, which for us is the somewhat odd position of teaching tolerance for the cultural mainstream.  But yes, certainly, we are all affected when children are fed a daily diet of violence, sexuality and commercial culture.  By leading the life we do lead, and naturally gravitating toward people who feel similarly, we create an option in society.

I agree that finding like-minded people is an important element.

Yes, faith communities certainly could play an important role in addressing these issues.

I agree. Witness for Childhood is an attempt to bring voices from the progressive religious communities into the conversation.

Links: A note of caution: these are meant for a society that understands the mythology.  American parents are advised to take a look first and see if they feel the material is appropriate  for their children.

The US distributor of the Amar Chitra Katha comics is:

Karadi Tales audiobooks ( )