Media Smarts

I haven’t felt much like blogging lately, because I have been very, very busy watching Dancing With the Stars and eating an entire pan of brownies because my children all REFUSED THEM, I am the mother of aliens. However, just so you all don’t think I have gone comatose with sugar (actually, come to think of it, it’s touch and go), I thought I’d post my final column for Capital Parent here. This was for their May edition but was never published because the paper folded. Enjoy!)

Not too long ago, our 11 year old son came to us and asked if he could start watching The Big Bang Theory. “Everyone else watches it,” he said – a parent’s least favourite words, along with “I didn’t do it” and “it was like that when I found it.” As further evidence on his side of the courtroom, he had a book of Big Bang posters he’d bought at the school’s Scholastic fair – “Even Scholastic thinks it’s safe for kids, Mom.”

Now, my husband and I, we enjoy television. We even watch it often with our kids, as family time. There’s reality shows like Masterchef Junior (which has us casting a side eye at the children, wondering why it is that they aren’t preparing us salmon en croute on a daily basis.) There’s silly sitcoms on Disney Junior like Good Luck Charlie that make us all laugh (Amy Duncan is the ba-bam!). There’s more complex fare on Netflix that leads to talk about morals and science around the dinner table, like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Avatar: The Last Airbender (apparently the colon in the title is a harbinger of smartitude).

But The Big Bang Theory is decidedly a Grown Up Show. Awkward post-puberty social interactions between girls and guys are the basic premise. Sure, he’ll be learning a bit about dark matter, the NASA space program, and obscure superheroes – you know, the essential basics – but there are also a lot of mature situations that would be hard to explain.

I mean, it’s not on at 8 p.m. for nothing. We might have to have some tough parenting talks about… coitus. It’s funny how watching some superhero pound on an intergalactic bad guy with your kids feels much less uncomfortable than watching two young people share an intimate emotional moment – especially when, in real life, I can pass teens kissing in the mall without a second glance, but would consider taking my kid to a bar fight to be out of the question.

I have a pretty romantic, rose-coloured idea of what TV was like when I was a kid. Eight o’clock shows meant solid family fare like Happy Days or Family Ties. If I went and put my jammies on and brushed my teeth, I might be allowed to stay up for Charlie’s Angels or The A-Team. It all seemed so innocent, so charming.

But looking back, I think a lot of things just went over my naive little head. I never once thought the jiggly jumpsuits on Charlie’s Angels were too risque; rather, I just thought they’d look great on my Barbies. I was a regular watcher of Three’s Company, but didn’t actually understand that Jack was playing gay until years later, when I read an article about it in a magazine – I just thought that Chrissy was funny. And practically every single episode of The Facts of Life qualified as a Very Special Episode, but my takeaway from seasons of devoted watching was basically that I’d never be as cool as Jo. I started thinking that things might not be as different “these days” as I thought.

So I caved in to the peer-pressure-by-proxy and let him start watching it — on a trial basis at first, although that slippery slope soon slid right into a regular gig. We gingerly kept an eye on him during the whole show to gage his reactions, ready to jump in with a primer on human relations if need be – or alternately, to hide under a blanket singing “LA LA LA” at the top of our lungs to avoid the shared mother-son bonding moment of seeing Wolowitz in his underwear.

But here’s the weird thing: it turned out to be not so bad. In fact, maybe kind of a good thing. There was sex stuff, which was yes, uncomfortable at times, but led to a lot of teachable moments. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to having “the talk” with my kids, but I did it, and then I realized that it’s not just a one-time thing – it’s a whole series of discussions, a whole encyclopedia set of learning to navigate this wild world of living among people. There’s romance but there’s also the complex interworkings of friendships, of work relationships, of the minefield of being an adult child – all things they don’t cover on Masterchef. And when we’re talking about Sheldon and Leonard and Penny, it seems a lot less threatening than getting personal – we can talk about things in the abstract that I hope will prepare him for experiences that are right around the corner.

Now our 10 year old daughter, newly obsessed with Warblers videos on YouTube, wants to watch Glee on Netflix. Teen pregnancy, fake pregnancy, crumbling marriages, crushes on teachers… maybe not quite yet. Soon, though – and I’ll be ready.

7 thoughts on “Media Smarts

  1. I never knew the whole “gay” thing about Three’s Company either, until I was in my twenties. I was even older when I realized that the Duke boys were being chased by the law because they had an illegal moonshine operation. So. My kids are into Seinfeld and mostly, it’s great because it’s hilarious physical comedy. But there is also a lot of SEX. Happily I’ve seen all the episodes so I know which ones to record and which ones not to (the one where Elaine gets all those condoms from Kramer, the “nip” episode…)

  2. I LOVE this post. Thank you. Both my kids watch The Big Bang Theory occasionally with me present because the only thing they see is Sheldon and how quirky he is and they think he’s hilarious. (Me too.) Sure, occasionally, when there’s some smooching et al, I glance over at the 10yo boy and he gets a little uncomfortable, but that’s not unexpected and until he says something, I just kind of sit back and hope that Sheldon will come back with some new quirky thing to make the kissy-kissy stuff go away. 🙂

    PS I too watched Three’s Company and didn’t understand the gay aspect either, although watching it now, it was just so plain obvious. LOL…when I think of Jack on Will&Grace…anyway.


    C (formerly Javamom)

  3. Now that was a great post! My boys are now young adults but it doesn’t seem that long ago that we went through all this. I remember a very awkward movie night when they were in their mid to late teens. We rented The Hangover without really looking into it. Well needless to say that by the time we figured out how explicit it was, well it was too late…

  4. I didn’t have this problem growing up because we rarely watched TV. Not because my parents forbid it, but because we had no VCR and France only had 5 channels back then 😆 I think I got a TV in my bedroom when I was around 15 or 16 (that’s because my grand-father was a TV tech guy and my grand-parents had a TV store… long story short, he has an entire basement full of TV that kind of work!).

    I remember my mum being not that okay with me reading magazines that mostly targeted teens and twenty-something (like the equivalent of Cosmopolitan) when I was a tween or early teen. Eventually she let it go I think… but I remember a few arguments about that and my parents are super liberal.

  5. I love this post Lynn. When i was a kid we weren’t allowed to watch Cheers or Roseanne as my parents though them too mature. my sisters and I are still bitter about that 🙂

    I, however, am watching Friends on Netflix with my 10,5 yr old son (I added the .5 so he seemed older!). my parents wouldn’t approve.

    yes, there are a lot of sexual topics son the show, but I find things either fly over his head, and he doesn’t notice.. or it leads to an interesting conversation that we may not have otherwise had.. but in a light/ casual way.

  6. Ha ha. You’re right about how the shows we used to watch had material going over our heads. I used to watch Golden Girls and remember wondering why Blanche needed a mirror on the ceiling. To watch herself SLEEP?
    Then Rose brought a cake home, and when she opened the box, she said, “oh! it’s in the shape of Florida!”
    “That’s not Florida, Rose.” (Audience roars with laughter)
    I asked my mom what it was, then, if not Florida, and mom said if I was going to keep asking questions she was going to turn it off (Jokingly, but she never did tell me what the cake was in the shape of).

Comments are closed.