Where is Mr. Huxtable when you need him?

“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.”

One of my childhood family favorites.

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.

15 thoughts on “Where is Mr. Huxtable when you need him?

  1. I agree with you 100%! We took away all TV/computer/electronics for the entire school week & it’s really made a difference in my kids behavior. We DVR the Cosby show – but had to train the kids to FF through the commercials bc while the show is appropriate (so very!) the commercials during it are for ‘hit in cleavland” & ‘happily divorced’ & jokes about booze & sex are not appropriate . We’re down to a pretty small group of shows, for exactly the reasons you mention here. On the positive side, it is forcing more true family time for us – card games, board games. Book reading & real movie night. Oh! We also have the rule about a clean room & friends 🙂 AND my 9 1/2 year has to do her own laundry these days! Good luck!

  2. I would like to second the comment relating to Netflix. My family has not had any broadcast television/cable for seven years and Netflix has been a much less expensive and much more desirable alternative for us. We have watched, as a family, shows like Little House on the Prairie (in which parents are admired and respected by children who experience joy and excitement without any electronics whatsoever), Emergency! (in which firefighter/paramedics risk their own lives to save others) and more recently, Wild at Heart (a British show in which a family takes over a wild animal preserve in Africa, and struggles to protect wild animals and avoid danger, while maintaining loving and honest relationships with friends and family members).

  3. I, Carly was the first such show my daughter was interested in that I ultimately banned. I explained to her my objections to the way that both adults and children were portrayed, and contrasted it with another of her favorite shows at the time, Wizards of Waverly Place. She could see what I meant, even if she wasn’t completely happy with it, and those conversations gave her standards and a vocabulary for evaluating other shows.

    We dropped cable a couple years ago, in part because of the paucity of things worth watching, despite the 900+ channels. Netflix costs less than $10/month, and we’ve been watching things like Cosby and Family Ties together as a family. My daughter discovered a whole bunch of Aussie shows aimed at her age group that were different and refreshing and, well, not offensive. The nature of media today really requires us as parents to move beyond “do no harm” to “set the right tone.”

    (And my standard comeback when the kids complain that my rules are more strict than the rules their friends operate by is, “It’s not my fault that your friends’ parents aren’t as responsible as I am.”)

    1. Such a great point you make here: The nature of media today really requires us as parents to move beyond “do no harm” to “set the right tone.” We have Netflix as well, perhaps we need to utilize it better. Thanks!

  4. Emily,
    We watch tv very seldom but the girls are infatuated with newly discovered Cosby show and full house. I think they are both on Nick at Nite 7-9 ish

  5. With so many media choices, I think we need to rise above “Will this media damage my child?” and start asking ourselves “Is this the best media choice available for my family?”

  6. I’m glad we had decent shows we could watch together as a family. It seems as if nobody would watch those kinds of shows now because they are considered too “cutesy.” How sad. I don’t like the effect it has on children.

  7. Hmm…. tricky question. My parents never had to deal with that with me, because I never watch much TV. They occasionally confiscate my books if I’m not doing my homework, but they haven’t done that recently. I guess they can’t complain, though: the TV I do watch is Sherlock, Doctor Who, Merlin… all the BBC Wales dramas, which are fairly in-depth as TV goes. I mean, Merlin has psychological torture, jealousy and moral dilemmas; Sherlock had suicide, friendship, fear and intelligence; Doctor Who has rising above being ‘human’ to become extraordinary and save the world… it’s just a pity they’re not on more often.

    1. Somehow, those topics don’t bother me (plus you are advanced in many areas of intellect). It’s the portrayal of “stupid” or “uninvolved” parents that bothers me. I don’t like my kids being bombarded with the idea that things are easy or will be handed to them. There is a fine line between humor and making fun of someone too.

      1. That’s true. I guess the thing with these shows is that there are not really any parents — the characters are of an age where that’s not their issue. Obviously, in Merlin Arthur must live up to Uther’s expectations, but that’s a totally different thing.

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