Who else out there remembers watching TV with their parents? I sure do. There was “Remington Steele,” “Hart to Hart” and the bizarre yet enchanting “Beauty and the Beast” (starring a pre-“Terminator” Linda Hamilton) with my mom; “Magnum P.I.,” “MacGyver” and “The A-Team” with my dad. Then there were the lengthy and somewhat boring Sunday night episodes of PBS’s “Mystery!,” which I nonetheless relished due to the eerie music and romantically macabre animation of its intro sequence. I even remember a few instances of the entire extended family gathered around a television to watch the latest episode of “Dallas.” And I was born in 1980, so I was well under the age of 10 when I watched these “grown-up” shows.
I’m sure most of my contemporaries can share similar stories. What’s the deal? Were our parents neglectful or misguided in letting us watch TV shows that catered to the adults of the time, rather than to our own precious little minds? I don’t think so. Certainly not in my case, anyway. My parents were (are) educated, conscientious, protective and all that jazz. But back then, if we were going to watch TV in the evenings, we had to watch what was actually on TV in the evenings, and that meant grown-up shows. And it was great fun. I learned who various actors were (in fact I learned that there were such things as actors as opposed to the Canadian-voiced cartoon characters whom my children probably think are real people); I spent time with my parents doing something that they enjoyed and which felt like being given entry to a special club; maybe more importantly, I learned that there was a big, exciting world out there that didn’t revolve entirely around me and my whims.
So what’s happened? Ok, trick question, we all know the answer. Technology. I vividly remember getting cable installed in our house in 1990 and the OMG joyous rapture that accompanied discovering there was an entire channel devoted to programming just for me–Nickelodeon. (Interesting trivia fact: did you know that the first two-way interactive cable system was launched in Columbus, Ohio in 1977?) And it’s kind of all gone downhill since then, hasn’t it? Or maybe, more accurately, uphill–all the way to “peak TV,” the oft-cited notion that we have reached the apex, or even saturation point, of television content creation.
Now, not only do our kids have a plethora of cable channels airing child-centric programming all day, every day; they have those channels’ streaming apps along with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc., allowing them to choose exactly which show they want to watch in a given second. And don’t even get me started on YouTube (hey, let’s watch a family of complete strangers open surprise eggs and go to Legoland and try to eat barf-flavored jelly beans!). If my kids so choose, they could theoretically watch only programming explicitly scripted for children until the day they hit puberty. And then some.
I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. When I occasionally (ok, at some point daily) need the TV to act as a distraction/babysitter while I cook dinner/clean/use the bathroom in peace (not simultaneously, obvs), it’s comforting to know that whatever they’re watching is age-appropriate and probably not in need of any kind of censorship or nuanced explanation. But in many ways, this modern entertainment segmentation keeps us apart when it shouldn’t. Because I really don’t relish sitting down and watching “Rescue Bots” or “Masha and the Bear.” So invariably, I don’t. I check Facebook or read articles on my phone or do the aforementioned chores while they watch their shows.
And they sure as hell don’t watch TV with me. Because as kids’ TV has become more and more specialized, adult-oriented programming has become very, very adult. Zombies, murderers and bad plastic surgery abound. Even the tamest network sitcoms contain sexual references which I’m not quite ready to explain. And, bless them, they think HGTV is boring. What?!
So is there anything that can bring us to the couch together? I think, for my family at least, the answer is movies. A good portion of animated family films are just fine. I’ll watch them. Maybe not over and over again, but they certainly don’t make me want to run screaming from the room. And as our kids have gotten older, my husband and I have enjoyed sharing some of the ’80s movies we remember watching as kids. I also hope that one day my kids (and my husband for that matter) will be willing to sit down and watch some of the classic films I was exposed to by my parents and grandparents. Movies like “Harvey,” “The Thin Man,” “Some Like It Hot.” Oh, and then there’s Hitchcock…. Someone pass the popcorn!
Do you and your kids watch TV together regularly? Let us know in the comments!