Family Entertainment: Improving or Deteriorating?

BlogHer Original Post

I grew up on a farm. I always think that is so normal, because most of my friends in Kansas City grew up in little towns in Iowa, Kansas or Missouri. It's mostly when I talk to my friends from the Interwebs that I realize my upbringing was so totally Huck Finn compared to the suburban or city childhoods they experienced.

Family entertainment for us usually revolved around school events, family gatherings and outdoor activities. My sister and I did the cakewalk at the elementary school carnival. We ate pizza and put on plays with our cousins in my grandparent's dark basement. We caught fireflies and played with kittens and made mud pottery near the creek under the viaduct in summer and sledded and made snow forts in the winter. It's either blazing hot or freezing cold in Iowa all the time, so I don't remember spring and fall. Maybe they didn't exist.

As I got older, we watched The Muppet Show or The Dukes of Hazzard on Friday nights with the couches pushed together and lots of popcorn. I remember spilling soda on the carpet a lot. A LOT. (I hope that part of family entertainment doesn't become my reality -- can I make my girl use sippy cups until she leaves home?)

We also went to movies a lot -- probably twice a month. I loved going to the movies with my family, but I hated how they always made us get there at least a half-hour early. We'd take books and freeze until the curtain dropped. My family does everything early. If my parents had their way, they would leave for the airport the day before the flight. I don't remember which movies we saw, but they were never R rated. The PG-13 rating came out before I reached the age of 13, and I think my law-abiding mother respected it until my sister turned 13, three years after I did. I remember best seeing Splash.

My current version of family entertainment is so much more diverse than my childhood experiences, mostly because we live in Kansas City, where (surprise!) there is a lot to do. We have access to Worlds of Fun, which was a huge, yearly weekend trip for us as kids and is now a whim half-hour drive for my husband, daughter and me, especially if we do the half-price Twilight Hours. We go to children's museums, art museums, science exhibits, Science City, and Union Station, as well as tons of indoor places with tunnels and video games and ball pits in the winter. We go to the zoo, the lake, swimming pools, carnivals, festivals, air shows, water parks and outdoor theaters in the summer.

We almost never go to the movies, and we seldom watch television as a family. In fact, the only television my daughter has watched this summer is the half-hour of cartoons she gets in the morning while we get ready for work. I realized this summer she is probably old enough to watch stuff like Dancing With the Stars or American Idol, let alone Hannah Montana or the Wizards of Waverly Place, but then I thought -- nah. Why do that now when there's SO MUCH TIME for that later?

I asked myself if I thought family entertainment is better or worse now than it was when I was a kid. I actually think it's better. The animated movies are amazing, poignant and vivid. The amusement parks are safer and more geared toward all ages. The face paint doesn't itch as much and the dress-up clothes are way better. There are at least 37 kinds of Crayola products that didn't exist when I was wielding crayons regularly. And the peachy color isn't called "flesh" anymore -- hello? How could we have ever thought that was acceptable to people of color?

That's the other thing I prefer about entertainment now. We're not totally where we need to be, but there are a lot more not white characters on television and in the movies. The last time I checked, most dolls still come in "black" and "white" -- mostly "white" -- but thanks to Dora and Handy Manny Spanish flows back and forth with English in cartoons and that totally racist centaur thing has disappeared from Fantasia. These facts alone to me mean we've improved. There's always nostalgia for the old days, but I'm glad I don't have to worry about my kid growing up listening to Archie Bunker hurl racial epithets. Entertainment can be damaging, because kids accept it as truth.

The thing I miss about family entertainment? I don't spend as much time with extended family as I did growing up, and neither does my girl. Time with grandparents and cousins is a special occasion, not the norm. We all just live too far apart. She has a different relationship with her cousins than I did with mine. It's not necessarily worse, but it's less familiar. We don't spend weekends at family dinners. As a result, when I think "family," I usually think of our little three-unit nuclear.

But on the flip side, I get a lot of weekend evening time with just my girl and my guy, and I'll always treasure our cookouts in the backyard watching my daughter and her neighborhood posse drift back and forth shooting each other with bubble guns and shrieking when the fat little neighbor dog wandered into the fray.

What are your childhood memories of family time? How is your current reality different?

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