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Television Viewing for Kids When Parents Disagree

You and your spouse are the proud parents of three healthy, happy kids:  two pre-teens and one grade schooler.  Each evening, after homework is done, your kids can’t wait to watch a little TV.  However, what you think is acceptable programming varies substantially from what your spouse thinks is acceptable programming.   What can you two do?

Here’s a scenario.  Your kids want to watch Bones, a grisly hour-long portrayal of scientists investigating murders.  You see the show as an excellent opportunity for your kids to learn about science and the human body.  Your spouse sees the show as too grisly and dark to be kid-friendly.  You counter that the show does not depict rampant sexuality (although it does address the topic somewhat gently), evidence profanity, or portray other things that may trouble you.  Your spouse responds that the show focuses on the dark side of human nature, which is something your spouse seeks to shield your kids from.  You state that your kids are old enough to learn, in a tempered manner, that the dark side is present in reality . . . they need to know that not all the world is “sunshine and roses” so that they can steer clear of trouble and make conscious choices in favor of the positive aspects of reality.  You and your spouse could debate this forever: both sides are making valid points.  However, there’s an alternative.

First, you each need to acknowledge that there is merit in both perspectives.  Failure to acknowledge this nets a zero-sum proposition in which nobody really wins.

Next, seek compromise.  If Bones is too graphic to garner your spouse’s approval, is there another program that offers the same merits (i.e., the opportunity for your kids to learn about science and the human body) without being so graphic?  This genre of television programming includes a wide array of choices:  Law and Order, CSI, Criminal Minds, and NCIS, to name a few.   Alternatively, can you, as a family, watch the program and then allow time after the show has ended for family discussion about what was just viewed?  Parents can then shape the message (i.e., validating science and learning, demystifying science and the human body, lessening fears of death and dying, and reinforcing your family’s values).  For example, if one episode dealt with an unfaithful spouse who was poisoned by his/her jilted lover, you and your spouse can talk with your kids about chemistry (as related to the poisoning), the death and dying process, what happens to the soul or consciousness after physical death, morality (i.e., keeping one’s marriage vows), and how poor choices tend to create negative circumstances that lead to other poor choices.

As you negotiate to compromise with your spouse, you both can and should tap the resources that are available to you.  For example, television shows begin with a rating on the top of the screen.  The rating will indicate the age of the target audience and the element(s) of the program that may be unsuitable for younger viewers (these elements may include rough language, sexuality, violence, etc.).  Also, parent groups in your locale, your kids’ schools, and other sources may provide tools to guide your family to acceptable television viewing.  You may want to use V-chip that is built into your television (assuming your television was built in or after 2000):  the V-chip allows parents to block programming that they consider unsuitable for their kids.  Cable and satellite television packages may also offer blocking options.   

By validating the merits of each other’s position, tapping your resources, and negotiating to compromise, you and your spouse can reach an agreement on what television viewing is appropriate for your kids.

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