By Melissa Henson
Many families are still feeling the effects of the economic downturn. For those families, watching television together is an inexpensive alternative to going to the movies. And television viewing can be a great time for families to bond over shared laughter, thrilling performances or heroic adventures. I still remember as a child looking forward to Thursday nights when my parents and siblings and I would all watch “The Cosby Show” together and laugh until our sides hurt.
In fact, television viewing is an activity that’s best shared with your grandkids. The child will get more from the experience, and it gives you an opportunity to control what kind content he sees. And that’s true whether your grandchild is 5 or 15.
Here are a few tips to make your family TV viewing fun, safe, and rewarding for you and your grandchild.
1. Plan in advance what shows you both want to watch together
Planning is essential. Do your research. Find out what the show is about and what you can expect before you sit down to watch. Read reviews and search the Parents Television Council’s “Family Guide,” for information about the volume and degree of sexual content, violence, or profanity in the program. The Family Guide is a great resource to help you sort out what shows will be appropriate for your family to watch. Perhaps you choose a show one night, and then let your kids choose another show a different night.
2. Pay attention to the TV ratings
Not sure what a TV-14 rating means? Ratings aren’t what they used to be and parents have to be careful. Broadcast TV shows are never rated TV-MA (for mature audiences), and some cable TV shows are (“The Walking Dead,” for instance). More adult content can be found on TV-14 rated broadcast TV shows, so keep that in mind as you choose your show.
3. Don’t assume that because a show is rated PG, it’s okay for your family
Parents can often be caught off guard by adult content found on TV-PG rated shows. A recent PTC study found 10.8 instances of adult content per hour on PG-rated shows. That means that your grandchild would be exposed to adult content every five and a half minutes; and some of that adult content includes intense violence, such as mutilation, dismemberment, decapitation, violent drugging, animal abuse, animal violence, bloodshed, electrocution, graphic depictions, and graphic descriptions. Here again, it’s important to do your research and find out what the program is all about before you allow your grandkids to watch.
4. Make the popcorn and settle in
It’s great to get snuggle time in with your grandchildren. Make the time watching the show together count. Grab a snack and kick back.
5. Be an active viewer
Even if you’ve done your research, you may still be caught off-guard by inappropriate content within the program or in a commercial. Make sure you’ve got the remote in hand so you can skip over the content or quickly change the channel, and use that opportunity to talk to your child about what they saw, why you felt it was inappropriate. As children get older, especially, we tend to assume their peers exert more influence than we do, but that’s not true. Our kids still look to grandparents as an example, so be willing to share your values and talk about tough issues like violence or teen sex when it’s appropriate.
6. Talk about what you saw
This is especially true if you have school-aged grandchildren. You can use lessons learned on the TV show to have meaningful discussions about issues that are relevant to their lives in a way they can relate to and understand. TV shows can be an opportunity to learn about something new and that can give you another way to engage and connect with your grandchild, and to even learn something new yourself.
Want to learn more? Melissa Henson blogs at the Parents Television Council’s TV Watchdog Blog: www.parentstv.org/blog. Give her a shout! The Parents Television Council is a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment.