An underreported but fascinating thing happened in May of 2015. According to the Wall Street Journal, the same night that AMC aired the Mad Men finale, CBS counter-programmed. They aired a newly colorized episode of “I Love Lucy.” Over two million more people watched Lucy and Ricky than watched Don Draper dream up, “I Want to Teach the World to Sing,” for Coke.
What can be taken from that Nielsen surprise? Two things, actually. First, Lucille Ball’s comedy stands the test of time like few others. Second, there is still a place for families watching television together, and learning together, free from sexual innuendo and bad language. It may be rarer than it used to be, but it is still there.
Rather than decry the lost art of families watching TV together let’s look at some numbers. Certainly, it is true that families are watching less TV as a unit than before. That doesn’t diminish the importance of the experience because some families only spend time together in front of the television. In other words, long road trips unencumbered by infotainment systems and headphones are out. The traditional conversation around the dinner table is fragmented by scheduling conflicts.
We are left with one experience to share together. The television is the only common touchstone for many families, and it can be a better conduit for communication than ever before.
It only makes sense. Thousands of televised offerings and new technologies enhance the menu of shows to watch, as well as the opportunity for discussion.
“What’s on TV?’ isn’t limited to that night’s TV Guide selection. On Demand puts us in an entertainment time machine. “Don Draper? Coke?” It’s On Demand from AMC. Lucy is On Demand, as well.
The television was always a great teaching tool if we allowed it to be. That’s still the case today. Don’t allow Sesame Street to discuss the letter “R” without asking your child if there are any “R” things in the family room. Use the DVR to help.
The ubiquitous use of the DVR allows us to discuss what we just saw on the screen and do it in the moment. It goes beyond “R” to more adult themes. Did someone on the show just offer a teaching moment? Did the shady message just uttered on “The Wire” open up a topic of discussion? Pause the show! Let’s talk about what we just saw.
The ability to discuss what is on the screen in real time makes the tricky waters of parental controls easier to navigate. Some families use the on-screen guides to decide what the kids should see. Other families make those decisions on a case-by-case basis. Whichever path your family chooses is more easily traveled with the “pause” feature on your DVR or Genie.
“Wait?’ you say. “Are you advocating an unlimited amount of time in front of the television as long as parents and families are watching together?
Not at all. Children will always have more leisure time, and their TV habits will reflect that fact. In fact, “less is more” has never been truer than in the case of the kids and the television. Recent studies of kids and screen time are alarming! The children in your house and around your neighborhood are tied to the screen. How tied are they? The kids will spend an average of seven hours on entertainment media today, and the same tomorrow.
These hours include televisions, computer monitors, phones and other electronic devices.That’s a lot! It may even be more hours than they realize. We need to talk with our children about our concerns in this area. Ultimately, though, it will be your call as a parent. Decide on a certain amount of screen time your kids will be allowed each day. Then allow your DVR to be the helpmate it will be if used to its greatest potential. It’s there for more than catching the game when you weren’t home in time for kickoff.