From our parenting and marriage contributor, Mary from Giving Up on Perfect!
Anyone who knows me knows I love television. I also love my family and cats and mysteries and queso and long drives by myself, but it’s often more fun to talk about TV. (And, let’s be honest, less divisive than the never-ending debate of cats vs. dogs.)
Given my love for TV I have struggled as a parent, acknowledging and respecting the frequent (and valid) advice from pediatricians and other parenting professionals to limit my children’s screen time. When I had my oldest daughter, I was determined to keep her away from all screens for her first two years. Yes, I was a typical first-time parent that way. And my good intentions and determination did not last for long.
Kudos to those of you who adhere more strictly to the screen-time guidelines than I do. I don’t judge or criticize your choices by any means; I’m sometimes even envious of them. But I’ve found that, while we do try to keep screen time to a couple hours a day, it actually has great benefits for our family.
And I’m not just talking about the fact that I would hire Daniel Tiger to babysit my preschooler in a heartbeat.
Much more than mindless entertainment or free babysitting, watching television with my kids has turned out to be an active and, I believe, healthy part of our relationships. Here’s what I mean:
5 Ways Watching TV Together Benefits Our Family
1. It gives us special time together. After I put my youngest to bed, my nine-year-old and I slip back downstairs for some together time. Our days feel rushed from the first alarm to the bedtime prayers, and my daughter’s love language is quality time – so this pocket of time is high on her (and my) priority list. Sometimes we go through her papers from school, and sometimes we work together to finish some chores or clean up dinner. But most often, we settle into the couch for an episode of Girl Meets World, Just Add Magic, or Project MC2.
I’m super selective about the shows that my kids watch, steering clear of the ones with sarcastic tweens and clueless parents. And when my younger daughter is with us, it’s all-cartoons, all-the-time. But a few nights a week, my older daughter is able to watch a “big kid show” (or the occasional American Girl movie) while she also scores time with her mom. And as long as she wants that, I’m going to give it to her!
2. It creates inside jokes just for our family. Because my girls are young, we don’t have a whole lot of pop culture-related jokes yet. We do have an entire catalog of Daniel Tiger songs and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse cheers that we repeat, but I am sure more quotes and jokes are coming soon. I know that because my brother, parents and I still quote TV shows we watched together, and that was twenty (or more) years ago! I also know this because my daughter already loves processing and remembering plot lines and dialogue after a show is over, which is likely to lead to inside jokes someday.
3. It brings up tough topics and promotes open communication. While I anticipate inside jokes becoming part of our family’s language, I’m already seeing this one happen. Even when I’m selective (or protective, whichever word you want to use) about which shows my kids watch, serious issues are addressed in most every program these days. (I had to laugh when we watched episodes of Doc McStuffins and Girl Meets World in the same day that both dealt with being jealous of your friends. So many struggles are universal through the ages!)
Often, when I’ve needed to discuss tough topics with my oldest daughter, I’ve turned to picture books. But as she’s getting older I’m learning that TV shows are a better medium for raising subjects that we need to talk about. The characters are more relatable than two-dimensional characters in a “kid book” and less threatening or embarrassing than an unexpected lecture from me. Watching a TV show together and letting the conversation develop more naturally has allowed both of us to warm up to some hard things that led to heart-to-hearts.
4. It plays a big part in our holiday traditions. Singing songs, making crafts, eating special food. Serving others, spending time with family, wearing matching sweaters. All these things and so many more are part of our family’s holiday traditions. But so is It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the Claymation Christmas Special (not to mention Christmas Vacation and other classics we’re saving for when the kids are a bit older!). Watching the Grinch’s heart grow every year is as much a part of our holiday celebration as drinking Grandma’s green punch, singing Silent Night, and exchanging white elephant gifts.
5. It teaches us valuable lessons about life. I used to feel guilty about my love of television. But I’ve realized that those stories we watch aren’t simply entertainment. If we pay attention, they can also teach us something – about the world, about family dynamics, or about social situations. (After all, which of us doesn’t remember the dangers of abusing caffeine pills, courtesy of Jessie Spano and Saved by the Bell?!)
That’s not all. My family also learns about history or the world from all the History Channel shows my husband insists on watching, and we have lots of animated conversations when we watch DIY shows and make up plans for our next home project. And, of course, we also bond over a shared love for sports teams (or shared dismay when they lose!)
Now I want to hear from you! Does your family watch TV together? What are some benefits you get from family screen time?
If you enjoy learning lessons from your favorite TV shows, you might be interested in FAST TALK & FAITH: A 22-Day Devotional Inspired by Gilmore Girls. Available on Amazon, this devotional offers relatable messages of hope and encouragement with humor and grace, based on stories about our favorite friends from Stars Hollow.