By Melissa Henson
Creating wholesome programming that is suitable and entertaining for the whole family seems to have either fallen out of fashion, or else it has become a lost art, like calligraphy or cooperage. There was a time, not long ago, when the television schedule was packed with programs you could appreciate as an adult, and yet not be embarrassed to let your children watch, too.
Instead of “broadcasting,” casting a wide-net, trying to lure-in as many viewers as possible, network executives have taken a divide-and-conquer approach to program development, which means that instead of sitting together in one room watching TV as a family, often today you’ll see mom in one room, watching Scandal, for example; Dad in another room watching a game perhaps, or maybe Game of Thrones; and the kids in yet another room, watching the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon or streaming content over their mobile devices.
Scandal might be a top-notch drama, but it’s not something you’d want to watch with your kids around. And although Liv and Maddie might be a perfectly fine show for your 12-year-old, there’s likely not much there that would interest mom and dad.
But this approach ignores the reality of how most of us want to watch TV. After spending most of the week apart, split-up by school, work, sports, extracurriculars, and other commitments; most families treasure those precious few hours they have together during the week, and if we’re going to watch TV to unwind, most of us want to spend that time together with our families.
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Breheny Wallace reports that research bears out what parents seem to have intuitively figured out: watching TV together is good for families.
A paper published this past summer in the Journal of Adolescent Research reviewed longitudinal data on 633 adolescents and their parents. It found positive outcomes for families that used media such as TV, movies and the Internet “as a tool—to laugh together, to become informed, to connect, to spark discussion.” Such shared activities led to greater levels of personal disclosure for adolescent boys, more positive family functioning for adolescent girls and greater parental involvement for both.
Television also can be an effective tool for improving social-emotional skills in young children, but parents have to be choosy. In a study published last year in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, researchers assessed which programs most encouraged such learning. “Look for shows that focus on altruistic behaviors like sharing and cooperation,” says lead researcher Claire Christensen of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and avoid those that rely too much on negative behaviors to teach a lesson. “Children whose parents explicitly talk about the shows’ lessons immediately afterwards,” she says, “are more likely to learn” positive social skills.
Perhaps that’s why increasingly parents are tuning-out the raunchy sitcoms and over-sexed, hyper-violent dramas the networks are offering, and instead returning to the classic shows they grew up with.
The good news is there are a few cable networks that also get it, and they have fashioned their schedules with families in mind. UP, INSP, and Hallmark are great places to turn for the TV classics you grew up with and that you can safely share with your own kids.
Little House on the Prairie Based on the beloved semi-autobiographical stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder of her childhood growing up on America’s frontier during the 19th century, and how the family persevered together, Little House became an instant TV classic starring Michael Landon as Pa and Melissa Gilbert as little Laura, and can be seen on INSP weekdays at 5 and 6 pm ET and on the Hallmark channel weekdays from 2-4.
The Waltons follows a close-knit family living in rural Virginia during the Great Depression and World War II. Episodes emphasize strong moral values and familial love. The Waltons can be seen on INSP weekdays at 3, 4, & 8 pm and Sundays 3, 4 & 5 pm ET or on the Hallmark Channel at 5-8 pm weekdays.
If you prefer lighthearted comedy, I Love Lucy is hard to beat. It’s a classic sitcom about Lucy Ricardo, a scheming housewife who is always trying to break into show business, her entertainer husband, Ricky; and their best friends and neighbors, Fred and Ethel Mertz. During the May sweeps, approximately 6.4 million Americans turned to CBS for back-to-back colorized episodes of I Love Lucy. That’s nearly twice as many as tuned-in for the much-ballyhooed series finale of Mad Men that same night. But you don’t have to wait for CBS to decide to dust off another episode. If you have a DVR, the Hallmark channel runs Lucy in the early morning hours nearly every day. Set your DVR to record episodes in the morning and enjoy them with your kids that night.
If you were a child of the ‘80s and are feeling nostalgic, UP is airing reruns of Growing Pains and Family Ties weekday mornings. Here again, you can set a DVR to record in the morning and watch with your family at night.
If you like Westerns, INSP has brought back The Virginian about the mysterious foreman of the Shiloh Ranch who lives by a code of honor based on honesty, bravery, loyalty, respect, justice, and hard work. The Virginian airs Saturdays at 1, 2:30, 8 & 9:30 ET on INSP.
Another classic western, Bonanza can still be seen on TV Land. Michael Landon shot to fame in this series about a thrice-widowed rancher and his three sons. And unlike many westerns of the time, Bonanza strongly emphasized family and core values, instead of gunfights and range wars.
Do you have a favorite TV classic that you enjoy sharing with your kids or that you look forward to sharing with your kids? Tell us what it is in the comments, and why you like it.
For more family-friendly viewing suggestions, check out our Parents Television Council Picks at http://w2.parentstv.org/main/Toolkit/PTCPicks.aspx.
As the Parents Television Council’s Director of Grassroots Education and Advocacy, Melissa Henson blogs at the PTC’s TV Watchdog Blog: www.parentstv.org/blog. Give her a shout! The PTC is a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment.