Daddy Talk: What’s on TV?
Once upon a time, my wife and I were able to watch whatever we wanted to on TV. Even after having kids and allowing them to watch some “educational” programming, there was a golden era where we could somewhat control their preferences and even decide, without hearing a protest, when to turn it off: “Thomas the Train is over. Let’s do something else.” And they went along with it.
But our grade-school kids are now far more aware than they used to be. They understand that the choices they have on Netflix, Hulu, Prime, and YouTube are far more extensive than what happens to be broadcasting on PBS at any given moment. And they understand that they can often watch programs endlessly with no break in sight regardless of whether the shows are “educational.”
And one thing they want to watch is contest shows — things like Survivor and American Ninja Warrior and Ellen’s game show where she makes contestants ride mechanical bull cannons and fire them at photographs of the other contestants. They also enjoy a Bear Grylls show where he takes young kids out into the woods and teaches them survival skills—skills that I’m sure would be very useful if you ever had to go outside.
But these shows are starting to affect my kids’ sense of their own purposes. For example, my six-year old, who has said for years that she wants to be a dancer and a teacher and a doctor has just informed me that she would actually settle for being a contestant on The Voice. As a parent, I struggle to see this as a more stable career path than the dancing medical field, but if Kelly Clarkson is still around for another decade on that show, I’m sure that Lydia would fit in great with Team Kelly.
I’m uncomfortably aware that I’m complicit in my kids’ weird TV preferences. I don’t watch too much TV myself, but the only time I do so in a routine fashion is to watch the news. Since any TV is better than no TV, my kids often watch the news when I do, Isaac at least feigning interest and the other two griping out loud during the entire program. One night, I slipped outside during NBC Nightly News to start cooking supper on the grill in the backyard. The kids apparently kept watching the show and Isaac was soon sticking his head out the back door and yelling, “Dad! Guess who’s on Nightly News with Lester Holt! Chuck Todd. From Meet the Press. Isn’t that weird?!” I yelled back something about it being unusual but not unheard of since it’s the same news network. But I spent the next half hour wondering whether ten-year olds need to be using their brain space to remember the names of various news anchors and which programs they are properly attached to.
I could make the more typical complaints as well, that TV turns them into zombies. Or that my kids have learned “crude language” from certain shows that are supposedly “kid shows” but that, as it turns out, actually teach kids a dozen different names for one’s rear end. But, then again, I suppose this is educational in its own way.