Adorable family watching tvRecently we stopped all weekday “Movie Time” for the kids. “Movie Time” was a dedicated hour (or inevitably two hours) of watching whatever G-rated shows they could find that were streaming on Netflix or some other computer generated rerun machine. My kids looked forward to that time like bees zeroing in on a succulent flower.

Since my husband was often at work during that allotted time, I was not always consistent as to what hour we would watch, as long as they finished their homework first. He’s the timekeeper in the family. I’m the go-with-the-flow Bohemian spirit (sorta).

It seemed like a decent routine, since it gave the kids incentive to finish their homework and it offered a much-needed respite in our day. That is, until my husband and I started noticing some worrisome behaviors that didn’t exist before.

Bad behavior

It began with a steady increase in fighting. Movie time would end and an all-out battlefield would ensue…on our bed. All the wound up energy boiling over during sedentary viewing needed an outlet that looked like a detonated explosive device in our room.

Then we noticed that the kids began treating people, including parents, with disrespect, showing insensitivity to others, and being downright lazy about helping out around the house. And those are just the changes off the top of my head.

Words like “shut up” (said in place of “no way” as well as in the traditional sense), “freak,” and choice put-downs somehow ended up in the new lexicon of our household. It’s no wonder why.

Have you watched any of the popular shows lately?

The kids in the sitcoms act maliciously to one another, yet those scenes are accompanied by a laugh track. The jokes are usually mean-spirited and sarcastic. They make Archie Bunker look benevolent. The actors—parents, children, teachers, and counselors—seem to be allowed to say and do just about anything they feel like doing without any significant repercussions.

Kids talk to their parents like BFFs and disregard most of their guidance (which quite frankly is nothing that monumental either).

Scenes shift rapidly, moving from one to another before you’ve had a chance to settle on the couch. You won’t see close-ups of faces to read emotions Laura Ingalls style. Actually, there are rarely any emotions at all. Even when the kids are teasing another peer and you’d expect someone to become angry, sad, disappointed—nothing.

Yes. It affected my kids for the worse. We are trying to raise socially conscious and sensitive children, yet the families they were watching were unresponsive at best, callous and cynical at worst.

Here are the noticeable changes that we have observed since they stopped watching.

Small boy playing

The siblings get along better. The bickering seems a bit better too. No one needs to fight over who gets to watch what or when they get to watch either.

They do more creative activities to fill their time, like converting cardboard boxes into doll houses or bassinets. They rekindled an interest in doing puzzles. Plus suddenly going outside isn’t something we need to encourage them to do but rather flows naturally. Innately. Call it desperation if you want but I call it restoring their senses to the realm of living fully alive.

They are open to helping out more around the house, sometimes baking, setting the table, sweeping, or doing the dishes. When not competing with a TV show, those are actually fun and entertaining activities.

Sure they miss their movie time. Daily they beg to have it back. Make no mistake. My husband and I recognize the withdrawal symptoms—and we cringe. But we don’t give in, regardless of how much they whine, plead, and get angry with us.

Sometimes they say that they hate us or they accuse us of hating them—strong words that we don’t internalize because we know they’re not true. Or maybe they feel true to the kids when they don’t get what they want. That’s ok. They’re allowed to feel the emotions that arise in their “recovery” process. They don’t hate us and we don’t hate them. If anything, when we set healthy limits, I know that we are showing them how much we do care because we are paying attention to them.

If you think I’m being overly fatalistic about the state of programming, I say: maybe. But I see the upside too.

It forces us to show up as active parents and fosters discussions about what we noticed that we felt was not true to who they are and who they could be. Sometimes learning happens in the absence of light, in the vast, murky area where making mistakes teaches survival skills and resilience.

It’s not the easiest decision we made—short term. But it sure is worth it.

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