FIVE-YEAR-OLD Shin-chan pointed to his genitals and exclaimed: 'Look, an elephant!' His mother was horrified to see that her son had drawn an elephant on his body, using his penis as the trunk. Hong Kong viewers have been similarly taken aback by the boy's antics. Shin-chan is the lovable little monster featured in Kureyon Shin Chan, a Japanese animated series which has raised parents' eyebrows while delighting their youngsters since it premiered on ATV last month. The cartoon series has since captured 1.3 million viewers during its Saturday slot from 10.30pm to 11pm. The precocious Shin-chan swears, calls his mother by her first name, sexually harasses her and his teacher, plays with his mother's underwear, watches older girls with his father and calls them 'babes'. 'How likely are our children to be affected by Shin-chan's behaviour and follow suit?' asked rival station TVB's programme controller, Stephen Chan Chi-wan. 'Even if the programme is watched under parental guidance, it will be extremely difficult for parents to counteract the negative effect of the cartoon character on children, particularly when viewers seem to enjoy it so much.' The Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) has received complaints from viewers saying it is not suitable for children. Chan has complained to TELA and to the chairman of the advisory panel on children and youth programmes. But young and old fans alike would be sorely disappointed if censors pulled the plug on it. 'I love to watch it,' said one four-year-old. 'Shin-chan is really funny.' ATV has received numerous letters both praising and condemning the series. In response to the first episode when Shin-chan drew the elephant, programme manager Felix To Chi-hak said: 'This act is embarrassing to his mother, but it is natural. 'Any five-year-old kid may be curious about his own body. This is part of the growing-up process. There is nothing erotic about it. There is nothing about sex here.' Despite the controversy, ATV continued broadcasting it every Saturday night and has recently increased its screenings to three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. In Japan, Kureyon Shin Chan has been shown every prime-time evening for three years. 'There is nothing strange about the Japanese,' said To. 'We can say only that they are more open than Hong Kong people.' In the cartoon, Shin-chan is presented as an adorable and amusing figure, but Chan reckons nothing could be further from the truth. 'This kid is very naughty,' he said. 'In one episode, we can see his mother does not want to buy him a bike, so, to force her to buy, he lifts up her dress in public. Is this the kind of behaviour we encourage our young people to follow? 'They may find it funny but such themes are indecent and penetrate into the minds of young viewers. For example, when Shin-chan sees his mother is well-dressed and ready to go out, he yells to her: 'Don't go look for a man'. Given such obscene material, should the cartoon be shown at 10.30pm during the summer vacation? 'I don't think this should be broadcast on TV at all. If they really want to broadcast it, the earliest time would have to be midnight when the kids are in bed,' Chan said. Clinical psychologist Eugenie Leung Yeuk-sin says Kureyon Shin Chan is an adult cartoon but she believes it can be used in an educational context to teach children what is good and bad behaviour. 'When Shin-chan lifts up his mother's skirt, parents can explain this is disrespectful and impolite. As for Shin-chan showing his penis, parents can say to their children this is embarrassing to people. 'I don't deny that children will imitate Shin-chan's behaviour, but there is no use in parents banning their children from watching it. Children will see it anyway. It's more healthy to watch it together with their children,' she said. Chan believes Shin-chan is worse than Bart Simpson, the main character in the American cartoon series The Simpsons. Children in Hong Kong can more easily identify with Shin-chan. However, ATV's To takes a different view. 'In my generation, my parents and siblings are the principal sources of information,' he said. 'Kids growing up now have much more exposure to the mass media and they know a lot. 'Being a parent now is different from being a parent 20 years ago. We can't apply our standards of right and wrong to our children. Parents must re-orientate themselves. Kureyon Shin Chan is an entertaining way of dealing with this transition. It is against this background that we bought the series,' To said. He believes any unconventional product inevitably raises controversy. 'If we had depicted sex before marriage on television 15 years ago, I'm sure that would have created an uproar. But does that mean it didn't happen then? 'Now if a person over 18 finds it convenient to have sex with somebody to whom he is not married, it's fine if he thinks it's all right. On the whole, society accepts it. 'Kureyon Shin Chan is dealing with a social issue. It's reality and there's nothing bad about it. It only tells you that children nowadays are no longer the same as children 20 years ago. 'As parents, you have to realise that and face it. If you continue to act in an authoritarian way towards your children, you have to accept the consequences. You and your child may not be able to communicate with each other,' To said. As for showing a penis on television, To believes that depends on the context. 'There are many documentaries showing people living in the wilderness and children may be running around naked,' he said. 'Nobody thinks it is a problem.' In today's affluent society, it is the parents' responsibility to understand the emotional needs of their child. 'It is a programme about modern-day parenting. It is about imperfect parents dealing with an imperfect child in an imperfect world. What really counts is the loving relationship that binds them together,' To said. He hopes parents and children will watch the programme together. When they are laughing, perhaps parents can explain that this may happen and what should they do, he said.