“Then what do you want me to do about it?” I ask in exhaustion.
It’s a phrase I utter too often, especially to my children. When the tears come and the frustration rises, I am quick to fix the problem, rather than help find or encourage a solution. The late night run to the grocery store for a forgotten poster board, frantically scavenging through scraps of fabric to come up with a costume for spirit day or agreeing to take someone to their friend’s house even though the agreed bathroom is still not cleaned.
I don’t want them to miss out.
I don’t want to be the bad guy.
I don’t want me to feel bad either.
But as I dropped The Tortoise off at school today, my heart and gut ached, staring at this beautiful young woman who was blaming me for her lack of a social life.
“Do you know how many times I’ve had to tell my friends I can’t come over because you made the rule that my room has to be clean by the weekend?” she spat at me as she left the car.
The kids are angry because I’ve started taking away television shows. In fact, I’ve threatened to get rid of cable altogether. These so-called “harmless” shows represent humor at the expense of the parents. The kids have no responsibilities, their parents live to make their lives easier, and sarcasm is a second language. There is a huge lack of respect among peers as well. And then there are all the reality shows. Even the ones like “Say Yes to the Dress” or “Four Weddings” only highlight women being bitchy and selfish or make temper tantrums seem acceptable and reasonable. For the most part, reality television only focuses on the most unflattering character traits of a person or group of people. Rarely do they showcase good or exceptional behavior. I started questioning my decision about these shows so much that I researched all of their “favorites” on Common Sense Media, and although the reviews were spot-on based on today’s social standards, reassuring parents no offensive content (drugs, alcohol, sexuality), one huge thing really stuck out: a lack of depth.
When did it become taboo to use 30-minute sitcoms as opportunities to ignite real family conversations or teach important life lessons? Why did television stop driving home the importance of teamwork in a family, parents who are respected (perhaps even feared a little), honesty, compassion and general hard work? An article on Family Education.com, written by Lindsey Hutton, points out a few mind-numbing statistics.
“According to the survey, in just five years, media use has increased from 6 ½ to nearly 7 ½ hours a day in children between the ages of 8 and 18. Even more alarming – children have become master multitaskers, often using two or more media devices at the same time. Counting each device separately, these kids have found a way to cram in a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into those 7 ½ hours.”
“In addition, kids who spend more time with media devices reportedly have a lower level of personal contentment, and have a tendency to get in trouble more often. They also reported feeling more sad or bored than their non-media-obsessed counterparts.”
And yet, media content has become more crude, character debilitating and self-esteem draining rather than educating or encouraging, especially for our tweens and teenagers. I can’t really blame the media. They are driven greatly by the demand of the majority, but as a parent, I have a choice. I can choose what messages I want my family to receive on a daily basis. Growing up my family watched shows together – 30-minute sitcoms that talked about finances, drug use, sex, eating disorders, parental relationships, and peer pressure. Mixed in with humor, there were life lessons and conversation starters. I remember being a little uncomfortable yet a little relieved that these topics were presented in a way we could talk about them openly. Most of all, I remember the kids in each of these shows having to work hard and be accountable.
The sad reality is that nothing I say or do will impact my kids as much as the world around them. So if I want them to see the world through my eyes, then I need to work harder at presenting it to them differently. And that might mean taking away much of these “harmless” television shows. I also need to stop “fixing” things and help my kids find their own solutions. It was never my intent to become a parent for the sole purpose of making their lives easier than my own. My intent is to prepare them for their own life.
However, my job would be a lot easier if there were more examples in the media of what that life should look like rather than create a false sense of privilege and success.