When TV is Good for Families

(adapted from a post at my main blog, www.uncoolmom.com)

My family will be going through withdrawal this week.  American Idol withdrawal, that is.  Wait-- before all you non-watchers start rolling your eyes, try to set aside any negative feelings you may have for the show (or for TV in general) and consider my statement in another way: my family will be missing time spent together this week. For just like people from the Greatest Generation reminisce about gathering with their family around the radio, I know that some day, my children will remember the fun we had gathering in front of the TV two nights each week, to watch regular people from all over America sing their hearts out.

For all the bad things about TV (and I am not averse to listing its negative qualities, as many of you know) this "togetherness" feature is one that parents should take advantage of with their families, whether it's watching American Idol, or a game show like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", or some drama or comedy you deem appropriate-- for my sister-in-law and her son, it's been "The Office". 

Unbeknownst to my family, I actually made the conscious decision three years ago that we would start following American Idol.  I had disliked what little of it I'd seen previously due to contestant judge Simon Cowell's harsh criticisms, but then realized that contestants are "in" on the schtick and sign up fully knowing there is a good chance they will be on the receiving end of some of it.  The other judges usually balance his comments so well and give good, constructive suggestions that I decided to give it a green light.  Normally, in the brief history of my immediate family, we hardly ever watched prime time TV.  Too much stuff to do in the evenings, with homework, instrument practicing, chores, sports practices... and besides, I felt (and still feel) that a lot of primetime, network TV is too racy and/or too scary for children-- even the ads make me wince. But one day, it struck me that with our family's love of music and singing, American Idol would be a good fit, might be a good family tradition to start.  And I was right. 

Boy, was I right! Ever since I announced, "We're going to watch American Idol tonight," we haven't missed a season, and it has been, for lack of a better word, a blast for all of us. We debate the merits of each contestant, enter online contests to try to win tickets to the show, and have given new life to the term, "TV Dinner."  We buy Dreyers' American Idol ice cream flavors, download contestant performances from iTunes and carefully write down the voting phone numbers of our favorite contestants at the end of most shows, so we can call in our votes.  As the competition gets more heated up, there is an air of excitement on Tuesdays and Wednesdays around our house--  we all remark that "Idol's on tonight!" and we can't wait to watch it.  We Tivo it so that when schedules conflict, we can watch it together at a later time (and it's interesting how adamant the kids are about watching it "together", proof that the "togetherness" is more important than the show itself).  The first year we watched it, we were fortunate to be in Houston at the same time the Idols tour rolled through, so we bought tickets and had yet another great family time, my younger daughter cheering loudly while sporting a "Sanjaya, You Really Got Me" T-shirt we'd ordered online. 
 
And another interesting parent-child connection has happened as a result of being fans of the show: it's introduced our kids to a lot of music from past eras-- shockingly, they like some of it!  It's definitely given new life to artists who today's kids wouldn't normally be downloading on their Ipods-- Cindy Lauper, Johnny Cash, Tears for Fears, Smoky Robinson, Diana Ross... the list keeps growing.

What will we do on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings now that Idol is over for this year? Probably be a lot more productive.  Then again, maybe Mom will think of another tradition to fill its place.

More family fun (and a photo of us at the Houston concert) at www.uncoolmom.com

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