When I decided to pursue my Doctorate back in the day, I was eager to study the dynamics of family life and entertainment media. At the time, television was still king, so to speak. Smart phones and tablets had not yet emerged. Laptops were not common. Netflix and Redbox weren’t around. It’s mind-boggling to consider how the media landscape has changed in less than two decades!
At any rate, I put together a research design to study the relationship between the healthiness of family functioning and how families interact with television. While there are many more screens in the mix these days, the good ole TV set still serves as a family focal point in most homes today. And what I learned then continues to be true: the strongest, healthiest families not only have clear guidelines and limits regarding TV viewing, but they intentionally and actively engage in conversation around what they watch together. Television content is used to spark meaningful discussion.
We “cut the cable cord” several years ago, so whatever TV viewing we do (not counting watching movies on DVD and Blu-ray) is via Netflix streaming. One of the delightful benefits of watching shows this way is being able to start at the very beginning of a series and watch every episode in order. My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Everybody Loves Raymond, Cheers, Friends, Arrow, and other series together after our son is in bed. His entertainment preferences these days lean much more toward playing Plants vs Zombies on his laptop or watching YouTube videos of gaming commentary – both with his Beats firmly fastened around his ears. And since we regularly enjoy (okay, sometimes we insist) spending family time together around board games and reading stories aloud, we decided it’s time we began using the “big screen” as an active family gathering place as well.
The choice of shows to begin this new adventure together was clear: The Wonder Years. The pilot episode begins with Kevin and his friends, Paul and Winnie, entering Jr High. My son is making his way through his first year of middle school. We loved the way this series faced so many coming of age and culture issues in such an endearing manner. Perfect! And so, we began. I must tell you, we hadn’t gotten ten minutes into the first show when my wife and I looked at each other and questioned if we should be sharing this with him. But we took a breath, hit pause several different times, and calmly discussed the various life issues that Kevin and his family presented to us. I’d like to share updates from this journey with you from time to time. Not to convince you to watch The Wonder Years. Rather, I hope our family experience will inspire and enlighten you to share the same kind of conversations with your teens and tweens. Let me know what you think. And I hope you will share with us your own experiences along the way.