How to talk about “TV shows” with our kids

How do we get our kids and students to talk with us about the “TV shows” they watch productively? (I put TV in quotes since so often shows are watched on many types of personal devices.) I had to work hard on this because often my teens would cringe when I entered the room when they were watching some popular show on a screen. They felt really judged by me and having any conversations were then fraught with tension. Fortunately, I saw that this approach was not furthering my goal of helping them gain greater media awareness. So I have made two successful changes in how I approach my kids about the shows they are watching, and I wanted to share my advice:

First: Use research when you talk to your kids. Data is not judgemental. I have a good study to share here. Before you discuss the study, ask your kids what they think are the most represented values in popular shows?  In this study psychologist Patricia Greenfield and her team analyzed the two most popular television shows with tweens (kids ages 9-11) and the top values depicted on the shows every decade from 1967 to 2007. Sixty raters ages 18 to 59 watched the shows and marked how often certain values were portrayed.

Here are the shows (which are fun to watch with your kids to show them what media was like back in our day)

  • 1967: Andy Griffith and The Lucy Show
  • 1977: Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days
  • 1987: Growing Pains and Alf
  • 1997: Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Boy Meets World
  • 2007: American Idol and Hannah Montana

And these are the two top values of each pairing conveyed, respectively.

  • 1967: community feeling, benevolence
  • 1977: community feeling, image
  • 1987: self-acceptance, community feeling
  • 1997: community feeling, benevolence
  • 2007: fame, achievement

Here is the take home from the study: “Fame, an individualistic value, was judged the top value from the shows of 2007, up from number fifteen (out of sixteen) in most of the prior decades. In contrast, community feeling was eleventh in 2007, down from first or second place in all prior decades.”

Ask your kids why they think community feeling sank while the individualistic value of fame rose. I recognize this particular data is from 2007, so maybe try identifying what the top values are that you notice in shows you’ve watched this year.

Second: I try to watch a show with my kids now and then and keep my mouth shut through the whole show—I usually fail a bit and blurt out something like “Oh that would never happen” and then quickly kick myself and reapply my metaphorical duct tape. Then, I wait for a day or two and say something positive about the show. For example, for the show “How I Met Your Mother” I might say something like, “It’s amazing how they come up with so many jokes one right after the other.” What I really want to say is “Have you noticed that every other joke seems to be about sex,” but I hold back. They already know that I feel that way and that is why they are defensive about all these shows and my co-viewing. But they also know that I work hard to see things from many perspectives, so they are willing to engage with me….if I am thoughtful in how I am approaching things.

From this place of positivity, I then might ask what they like about the show? What seems true to life and what seems untrue? This approach has made our talks go much smoother.

So for this TTT let’s talk about the popular values of today’s “TV shows” and what that means for each of us:

  • What “TV shows” do you like these days? What values are in it?
  • What are our family, individual values?
  • Are there any shows that you have watched that mirror your values?
  • Why are people often drawn to shows that focus on opposite values from their own?