I Blame Television

television rant

I freaked out the boy tonight by announcing we were only going to listen to music now.

The TV is making me crazy. It really is.

I was a staunch no TV mama until he was 2 and a half. Then he got pneumonia for the first time and there was only so much entertaining I could do.

Once Pandora’s box had been opened, it was very hard to shut. So after that it, was some – not much television and really benign stuff at that.

Over the past year I’ve let more in. It started innocently enough, Magic School Bus, Duck Tales, Rescue Rangers. But then it got a little more intense: Transformers, (new) Garfield and The New Woody Woodpecker.

Notice something there? Every 5-10 years there seems to be a changing of the guard, make it new more intense, the colors are more vibrant, the action is more close-up – in your face. Even sexier.

Everything moves faster, the characters are more belligerent. Some are downright mean; yet they are the heroes.

I’ll admit it, I’m old-fashioned. I have high expectations of my child and his behavior. I am also really concerned about what I am feeding his brain.

The boy doesn’t even know we have “television” all he knows is Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and videos (yes VHS too) – he is spoon fed what I deem to be harmless. But it isn’t completely, it never is.

Yes. I blame television for most of the attention problems, behavior problems, bullying problems, disrespect problems.

I blame television.

When we were kids (for me I mean 70’s and 80’s) Everything was slower, less intense, shows accessible to kids were innocent yet truly taught positive messages.

From The Brady Bunch to The Cosby Show. Benson, Full House, Different Strokes.

Even the racy shows: Three’s Company, Love Boat, Happy Days and The Dukes of Hazzard were tame compared to today’s standards.

What’s in that time slot now? Modern Family, Community, Parks and Rec, Suburgatory, Big Bang Theory, and The Family Guy?

Really?  These shows are supposed to replace the solid family shows we were raised on?

Over the past 40 years there has been an insidious nature infiltrating our television shows. Why I wonder? Why was it necessary? What changed first? I don’t understand and it’s my generation creating the programming for the most part. What set this in motion? Was it the new technology? Was it the angst of Generation X? This dystopian reality? Nihilism run amuck?

Where is Dr Huxtable? Where is the adult with integrity? Where is the parental figure who catches you doing something wrong, and teaches you something – while simultaneously making sure there are fitting consequences for our actions?

How are we to be effective parents when every where our children look, the images they see are of incompetent parents, idiotic authority figures, bumbling police men?

What are we teaching them? They certainly have no reason to listen to their parents. They’ve seen “parents” on Modern Family and The Middle, all they do is make a ton of mistakes that totally screw up their lives and the kids are always smarter than those clueless parents. And no matter the trouble the addled parents find themselves in, there are little or no consequences as the whole affair wraps itself up neatly in 30 minutes.

What about the children on these shows? They don’t listen to their parents and go out anyway, they “borrow” the car, they scoff at authority, make teachers look like idiots and suffer no consequences or at the most very minor ones. And talking back to their parents? Well that’s just the way they talk!

When a kid bumps right into me in the mall instead of moving aside, or let’s a door close on me as I walk behind him instead of holding it. When he acts rudely to the people working behind the counter at Aunt Annie’s like they don’t exist – no please? No thank you? Am I surprised? No.

I know this article is gonna piss a lot of people off. Hey I know a really large portion of my close friends disagree with me.

Personally, I think they disagree out of convenience, denial is a beautiful place to live. I would join you there. If I could.

Use my son, Isaiah (8), as a control. No television until he was 2.5 years old. Diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder before then, so I can’t say television caused it. Until 4 or 5 he only watched hand-picked movies. Then I sprinkled in some carefully vetted shows.

But over the past few years I have felt guilty, worried I was stealing his childhood, I wanted to allow him to enjoy television like I did. It was never my intention to create one of those “I never had a television growing up” kids.

The problem is, I quickly realized that in an era of Sponge Bob and Phineus and Ferb, I was not going to find what I felt was equivalent to my television experiences. And so we watched The Andy Griffith Show, Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Bunch. When we needed cartoons it was old Looney Toons, Pink Panther and early Chip n’ Dale.

And like the proverbial frog slowly dying in a pot of ever heating toasty warm water, I start to think; he’s okay, he’s doing fine, let’s let him watch some of those shows that are geared towards his age! Yes! Let him have the same experience as all of those other crazy kids! Lets watch the high-speed fast paced world of cartoons created in the last 14 years. Maybe even throw in some shows on Discovery (via Netflix) that he might even find fascinating.

And then it began to happen. Something I had seen before when I tried similar experiments. The behavior. The aggression, towards me, towards the dog. Talking back (more than normal), arguing about every little thing, refusal to do things for himself (like get a glass of water or help around the house) and perhaps most of all, and the basis for my strongly worded hypothesis, a marked increase in his tic.

Isaiah has a tic disorder that began at age 4. It has come and gone, but since allowing television as more of a regular event for the last few years I would say the tic is around more than it is not. I should start calling the tic disorder the I have been watching too much crazy TV barometer.

When Isaiah has been watching any of the more, let’s call it visually stimulating or respect deficient, programs his tic increases in a very noticeable way. He notices it too, but when I say “why don’t you give your brain a break” he insists he doesn’t care.

So, what is the answer?

 

television helicopter

 

I don’t seem to be able to find a happy medium. Truth be told, I don’t believe there is one.

I cannot recreate what I grew up with. A line up of shows that were both entertaining to adults and children a like. In the 70’s and 80’s, primetime didn’t go totally adult until the last hour when it was assumed kids were in bed. You could be sure the first 4 shows were going to be safe for your 8yo. Have you even thought about how much sex there is in the shows during the first hour of primetime now? Which here in the midwest is from 7-8, of course your kids are awake!

So while I attempt to spoon feed my child, he is still drawn to things I don’t even realize he’s aware of. Ninjago is the new thing. It has strong language, violence, belligerence, all the things I want to keep him from. But it’s Legos so how can it be wrong he wants to know.

I leave you without an answer. For this is my lament. I will be the best parent I can. I will do the best I can to filter. But I will blame Hollywood for the creation of a generation of obnoxious, consequence free, disrespectful, attention deficient* children, and I am nervous for the future.

If parents don’t make the decision to be better filters for their children, Hollywood will continue to lower the standards until we are all frog legs on some French dude’s plate.

*I do not believe all ADD is caused by television, however I do believe television can cause it in the sense that if a teacher can’t move as fast as a television show or a video game than how can he be as interesting to a kid as what the child sees on the screen?

 

 

  • I think this is a big subject for a lot of parents. The kids in my house range in age from 17 to 6 and all are on different levels when it comes to what they want to watch on TV. The 17 year old is a month out from 18 and the attempt to control that is futile. I try not to micromanage but have made clear what is and is not allowed with my 10 and 11 year olds. They usually listen and if I do still monitor since sometimes something that looks interesting to them may not be appropriate and they just don’t realize it. My 6 year old…his choices are still pretty tame and thankfully SpongeBob has left the building! Finally! Fortunately (this is long…sorry!) they are all involved in a lot of sports and outside activities so the amount of time they have available to them for crap TV is minimal.ReplyCancel

    • Jennifer Kehl

      Hey Sandy, yes I am thankful for outside and outside activities! It definitely makes for less TV time!ReplyCancel

  • I truly miss the old tv sitcoms and recently found Antenna TV on cable TV, which is a channel that play so many of my favorites, like Different Strokes and Good Times. These shows remind me of such simpler times (at least to me) and why I did so love sitcom television. If you do have cable maybe you could even try this channel with Isaiah, but also like the music alternative and am all for that, as well with my kids, too.ReplyCancel

    • Jennifer Kehl

      Janine, we only have basic cable. My sister has Antenna TV and she loves it! She texts me pictures of Wonder Woman and WKRP!ReplyCancel

  • I didn’t watch a whole lot of TV when I was a kid, and then it was mostly Nick at Nite. I had parents who modeled the attitude, “If everyone is doing it, then we’re not.” I’m the same as you about limiting it at an early age. My daughter didn’t watch TV until she was three, I think, and now she thinks only I can control it, so that helps.
    I hear what you’re saying about bumbling parents and back talk. But just as a counter-example, I think of Parks and Rec and the model of truly believing in your local government. Of the power of getting involved and helping others. There’s that, at least.ReplyCancel

    • Jennifer Kehl

      I watched a lot of TV as a kid Sarah, my parents didn’t seem to mind as long as we got our homework done. So for me… well it’s mostly the sex and language that bothers me. Even on Parks and Rec. Whatever good message there is is lost to the amorality for me.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous

    TV in the 70/80’s oh and 90’s was terrible. I hated it Strange thing was is that many older movies were so much better. Nothing for me personally is worse then watching predictable crap, with little intrigue.
    Honestly my kids have mostly watched Netflix, Hulu, then my wife recently got cable, and they were, “What’s cable?”

    Watching some tv garbage isn’t going to ruin your kid… You’re going to ruin your kid, or not.
    By you caring and explaining what is truely important, and them realizing it’s just storytelling… just like Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey (sex and violence). These things are part of life, most kids aren’t going to want to watch adult content, like I could care less about who shot J.R. when my mom watched Dallas(her vice, when she wasn’t throwing the t.v. out.)
    ReplyCancel

  • I have no solution for you, Jen, but I can tell you what ours was with my somewhat similar boy when he was younger: we got rid of the box entirely. We watched documentaries and kids’ DVDs from the library, on a very strict, limited schedule. I noticed Cinder’s usual “I need 4 hours of intense physical activity to be sane” rhythm could tolerate about 20-30 minutes of passive screen a day. More than that–if we planned to watch a movie–and I had to add another 2 hours of mountain climbing to the mix. When more kids and Netflix and then “all my friends are playing video games” came along, it was harder to keep our screen time down to that level–but at that point, he was older and had some good habits–among them, recognizing that sitting still in front of the screen drove him insane. Anyway: I could go on forever about the benefits of not having the box…. one makes conscious choices about what to watch and when totally on one’s own schedule, commercials are a thing of the past… my kids never actually know what the hottest toy everyone wants for Christmas is and don’t care.

    Now, as my eldest nears 12 and he’s been unleashed on Youtube, that’s a whole new experience. But, he’s got good habits. And discernment. And sometimes, he will watch things in atrociously bad taste… and we’ll discuss them. And I’ll express my preference that he not watch them. And he’ll think about it. Sometimes agree, sometimes not. But–he’s 12. Not 2, not 4, not 8.

    I’m really, really happy we have no box–see, we haven’t had one for such a long time, I can’t remember that they’re flat now–in the house.ReplyCancel

  • Zalina Kirshat

    Oh whatever! if you don’t like TV, don’t own one (I don’t, and I don’t). But if you want to consume that garbage, do it without silly lengthy rants. If TV is so harmful – to the point of contributing to your child’s ADD – then how can you possibly justify having this awful contraption in the house? (I suspect that you actually love TV, love to use it as a babysitter, and that you are not much of a reader – and hence your child won’t be either).ReplyCancel

  • There is so much junk on television that kids are being subjected to while they are watching cartoons. Primetime TV is the worst. I am turned off by all the skimpy clothes, sex scenes, and the occasional bad word.ReplyCancel

  • There is so little that is appropriate on tv anymore. My kids are seriously limited on what they are allowed to watch on tv and the computer. What bugs me is how much that bothers other people that we dare control what our children view, telling me that is just how it is now. Hello? I’m a PARENT-that is my job.

    Well said Jen! I love that you aren’t afraid to say what you’re thinking.ReplyCancel

  • Let me just say that I have not had television for at least 10 years, maybe more. I hate it. And when I’m at my parents’ house and they have CNN droning on and on and on, I realize how toxic and anxiety-producing it is. As for TV shows, we do watch a few through the computer or Netflix. But we are very selective. We are also very selective with what H watches and how long he is in front of the screen. He never sees us watching TV, so he doesn’t ask for it unless he sees me at the computer or phone, where he knows he can see Pocoyo if he asks insistently enough!

    As for the other argument, I can imagine my parents saying the same thing about the good ole days of Leave it to Beaver and whatever else was on then. I think it’s hard not to be nostalgic about your youth. But my opinion is that television programming has not causes ADD, although our habits around television viewing probably exacerbate it.ReplyCancel

  • Jen, this is awesome, really. I struggle with this so much. I allow my daughters to watch “carefully chosen” shows, but they all have that pervasive attitude you spoke about. We refer to is as “TV attitude” and we use that phrase when our oldest child is being disrespectful or sassy. I don’t believe she’s trying to be a jerk- it’s becoming ingrained. It’s like she hears a laugh track in her head whenever she’s talking. And yet I continue to allow it, because it makes my life easier. When the attitude has happened too often, TV goes away for awhile. But we always bring it back. This is such a tough one- great job tackling it.ReplyCancel

  • Thank Que

    Good stuff! I enjoyed this!ReplyCancel

  • Oh this is so hard Jen! I love this though and completely relate. I notice my son getting less willing to retrieve his own juice, or pants, if he’s watched too much tv. Normally, I feel like it’s fairly under control but the past couple of months, school’s been cancelled so much due to snow, it’s been freezing outside, and honestly, having the TV on allows me to have an hour to myself. But yeah, when my son then wants to jump on me I know it’s because of a stupid cartoon he’s watched. I don’t have the answer either but so glad you wrote about this!ReplyCancel

  • I have to admit my kids probably watch more TV than they should…. and I do see them imitating some of the behavior or sass that they see, but we talk about what’s appropriate and what’s not. I don’t think I could get rid of TV all together, I think in moderation it’s fine and what’s really important are the conversations with our kids and the behaviors that we model.ReplyCancel

    • Jennifer Kehl

      I totally agree Sarah. I think that’s the only choice we have these days. But I sure do feel like I’m doing a lot of talking!ReplyCancel

  • Katia

    This is one of your most interesting and thought-provoking posts. You’ve actually made me look at TV in a whole new light right from your opening paragraph: “as he got older, I realized I was in danger of creating a kid who couldn’t relate to his friends, because he couldn’t speak their television language.” – Oh my god, of course, such a valid point and I never thought about it from that perspective! I love that you ask where are the Doctor Hustables in today’s TV programming? I love the critical thinking that you’re applying to this subject. I just love TV, but blindly love it whereas you’re asking some important questions that never occurred to me. Finally, yes, I too have noticed the shift in behaviour and try to limit his watching even though he’s very drawn to the transformer-type shows.ReplyCancel

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