Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Critical Eye

Over the course of my life, it is mind boggling to think of how much television I’ve watched. And I don’t think that is a bad thing. In my career and in my personal life, I’ve found television to be a strong unifier. I’ve used it create connections and to break the ice with people.

If I had kids, I wouldn’t be one of those parents who never let their kids watch television. I have fond memories of everything from Conjunction Junction to The Love Boat to What’s Happening. But times have changed.

When I was growing up, there were a handful of channels to choose from. Cable came along and gave us more choices but even that was nothing compared to what kids have to choose from today. With television standards becoming more and more lax in regards to language, sexuality and violence, it’s important that parents take an occasional look at what their children are watching. But this is the real world and the truth is that parents can’t always be there to police the television, or the computer for that matter. So it is just as important, if not more so, for adults (parents and others) to teach kids to look at what they watch, as well as what they listen to and read on the Internet, with a critical and questioning eye. In fact, all of us, adults as well as kids, could benefit from that.

Take one of the most popular trends in television today: reality TV. Many of these shows promote a lifestyle or a set of values that is misleading at best and dangerous at worst. Shows like Survivor and The Apprentice reward people for being manipulative and calculating while shows like MTV’s Sweet Sixteen and The Hills promote lavish lifestyles that even the stars often can’t afford.

The average American earns $885 a week (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Working as a paid intern, as the girls on The Hills do, you’d be lucky to make that much. Yet, they often spend more than that on the handbag they carry in one episode.

The stars of My Sweet Sixteen routinely spend over six-figures on a party. As the sons and daughters of singers, actors and rappers, they can afford that kind of opulence; but most of the kids watching can’t.

As I said, banning television, or music or the Internet, is not a realistic option in today’s society nor do I think it’s a good idea. However, I do think that these kinds of shows give you a great opportunity to engage in some realistic talk with your kids.

Let them know how many hours an average intern making $10 an hour would have to work to afford a $500 pair of sunglasses, not to mention up to $2,000 a month for rent and a car payment of over $600.

When that Survivor or Apprentice contestant gets rewarded for double-crossing his opponent, it might be a good time to talk about the consequences for unethical behavior in the real world.
When people on television fall casually in bed with one another, let them know that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Remind them that there are consequences involved in all of your actions.

You can’t always be with your kids but the knowledge you give them will stick with them even when you can’t.

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