Growing up, we watched TV as a family. Weeknights at 8 pm was family-hour prime time, and during those pre-DVR days, my sister and I would scramble to finish our homework and don PJs in time to dive onto the couch and watch. What did we watch? Whatever. It was all PG, or at least PG-ish.
When I left home for college and then started my own household, I continued my TV viewing habit. Yes, I’m a reader and writer, but I have no problem admitting my love for TV. It’s how I decompress at the end of the day, and appointment TV is something I share with my husband, my mom, and my friends. When the kids were small, the TV turned on after bedtime, but now, they’re old enough to know what they’re missing. We’ve begun to reinstate the family TV hour in our house, but unfortunately, this is no longer the ’80s and ’90s. Prime time TV is no place for children, even tweens and teens.
What to watch? Thanks to our trusty DVR, Netflix, and DVD boxed sets, we’ve been introducing the boys to a combination of current TV and retro series from earlier days. Here’s what we’re watching or have watched with our tween and teen:
Our boys are boys, and therefore love crime procedurals and cop shows. But most are too gory, too sexy, too something. Luckily, we’ve found two excellent series for our crime show fans:
1. Monk (2002-2009): We love Monk because it’s edgy without being too scary, and I can slip intelligent character-driven plot lines into my kids’ viewing habits like vegetables hidden in spaghetti sauce.
2. Psych (2006-present): We love Psych for the same reason we love Monk, plus it’s funny. Very funny.
The boys aren’t as enamored with relationship-driven dramas, with a few exceptions:
1. Joan of Arcadia (2003-2005): One of the absolute best teen dramas on TV ever, in my opinion, at least up to the second half of Season 2. It’s relationship-driven, but Nate (age 13) was still drawn in because teen problems are universal. The way this show tackles issues of faith and spirituality without any preachiness is right up my alley.
2. The Wonder Years (1988-1993): Scripted half-hour TV doesn’t get classier than The Wonder Years. We loved every minute of it the first time around, and thoroughly enjoyed watching the majority of this long series with the tween and teen.
3. Lost (2004-2010): We only let Nate (13) watch this one, and only seasons 1-2. We can debate whether Lost derailed after that, but at any rate, this sampler was enough for him.
4. Revolution (2012-present): This one is rated 14+, but we haven’t found it to be too intense. That said, we likely won’t continue watching when it returns to TV in a few weeks. Why? I’m proud to say that after being exposed to high quality TV, my kids can spot mediocre writing and acting. They just weren’t loving it despite liking the plot. They couldn’t figure out why until Nate finally articulated, “I don’t know what it is exactly, but I just don’t care what happens to them.” First rule of dramatic TV? You’ve got to care.
5. Little House on the Prairie (1974-1983): Toby and I are working out way through the early years of this series, and loving every minute of it. It hasn’t aged too well, but we can look past the abrupt scene changes and sappy musical scores.
Sometimes, all you need is 22 minutes of laughter. Many current (and past) comedies are full of sexual innuendo or sheer stupidity, but these stand out as (almost) risk-free for parents:
1. Malcolm in the Middle (20000-2006): It’s not always appropriate, but where would be the fun in that? Malcolm delivers more laughs than parental cringes, and was a huge favorite among the tween set.
2. The Neighbors (2012- present): Remember what I said about my kids’ having discerning TV taste? Never mind. In my opinion, Neighbors is possibly the worst show on TV. But, they like it. They really like it. There’s no accounting for taste.
3. The Middle (2009-present): Now here’s a good TV comedy. Parents will channel their Everybody Loves Raymond days, but you’ll love it for what it is, too. The kids on this show really surprise…in a good way.
4. Big Bang Theory (2007-present): I love BBT, which means that every so often, I cave and let Nate watch with me. It’s usually not appropriate to do so, but damn it’s funny.
I generally hate reality TV (give me scripted any day), but there are exceptions. What we watch (and this includes the eight-year-old, too):
1. The Amazing Race (2001-present): The kids see the world, and get to enjoy a competition while they’re at it. Occasionally, the contestants fight too much or exhibit poor examples to kids, but 99% of the time, this show is good, clean fun. And you’ve gotta love Phil’s eyebrow raise.
2. Shark Tank (2009-present): We enjoy this one because the kids and I learn about business and entrepreneurship, and we discover some cool companies and products along the way.
3. Undercover Boss (2010-present): This show gets a little cheesy, but we like learning how bosses get to their CEO positions, and seeing inside large corporations. Toby especially has learned a lot about how companies work.
We’d welcome your ideas! What TV series, past or present, have you let your kids watch?