Mourning the Death of Family-Friendly TV
It was an opportunity I had dreamed of my entire teenage life. I would stand on a football field, albeit with hundreds of other teenagers, and sing on national television alongside Reba McEntire. Any aspiring singer would jump at the opportunity, especially if she admired Reba like I did.
My dad, however, was not enthusiastic. The event fell on Thanksgiving Day, designated as a special time for our family to enjoy the day together and celebrate traditions. I didn't appreciate the importance of it, especially since it was squashing my chance of getting "discovered." Now that I'm an adult, I understand what my dad was trying to instill in me. He was willing to go against the ambient culture in order to maintain family time.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the decline of "the family hour," a traditional set of TV programming made to appeal to the whole family. What was once a coveted and heavily marketed hour is now becoming increasingly mainstream and adult in its broadcasting. As the article states, network heads simply do not feel the need to cater to the once-popular "family hour," because today's families don't really watch shows together. Instead, most family members use personal computers or smartphones to catch up on their favorite shows; the average U.S. household has about 20 digital devices. It's probable that on any given night, a family of five can watch five separate shows in different rooms of the house, or even in the same room, never once having to look up from their individual screens.
The LA Times article focused on the entertainment shift, but that shift points to a larger problem: the loss of family togetherness. That families don't do the most basic activities together, even an activity as mundane as watching TV, points to a larger dearth in familial interaction. This is to our collective detriment. Studies show that families that share regular meals together thrive. A 2006 Time article emphasized that the more a family eats together, the less likely their adolescent children are to behave in ways that are characteristic of their age group (i.e., smoke, do drugs, behave promiscuously, battle depression or eating disorders). Such students also seem to perform better in school, care more about reading, and generally grow into civilized members of society. But they are an anomaly. If families aren't hurriedly grabbing a meal from McDonald's on their way to another extracurricular activity, they are microwaving a frozen dinner and eating while doing other things. It's rare for a family to cook a meal and sit down at the same table at the same time. We are just so busy. And if we aren't busy, our iPhone or computer is enough to keep us company for the night.
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