Family TV Time

Lynn JataniaSometimes I wonder if watching TV is going the way of the dodo. Remember when we were kids, and there was concern about how watching TV was going to turn all of us into mindless zombies?

These days, my kids are much more likely to be playing a game on their phone, or watching a hilarious pranking YouTube video on their tablet, or building a world in Minecraft on our Xbox downstairs. All very solo endeavours – screen time as alone time.

So we’ve come to view watching TV as quality family time – something that actually brings us together for a shared experience. Sure, it’s not as good as playing a card game together or going for a bike ride. But some evenings, when we only have a half hour together wedged in between dinner and some sort of extracurricular activity, or Saturday mornings when we all just want to flake in our jammies for an hour, we turn to the television to find some common ground.

The Canadian Paediatric Society’s Digital Health Task Force just released this great guideline on the “4Ms” of screen time: minimizing, mitigating, mindfully using and modeling healthy screen use. It’s actually pretty reassuring – I was happy to see that we’re already doing a lot of the “right” things when it comes to taking in content, at least on television.

One thing that really works for us is being mindful of turning on the TV. We don’t have it just running in the background, and we don’t turn it on just to flip around and “see what’s on.” That’s mostly because we gave up cable and satellite about a year ago; we have an antenna that gets the basic channels (CBC, CTV and Global), but mostly we watch Netflix.

We’ve been in the business of binge watching for a while now – we pick a show that we’ll enjoy as a family, and then we watch that show almost exclusively until it’s over. We have one central TV, in our main living space, and usually someone will round up a quorum of family members – for most shows, this is all five of us – and then we’ll gather and turn it on specifically to watch the next episode (or two or three) in the show we’re working on.

We’re lucky that our kids are relatively close in age – 14, 12, and nearly 10 – so we’re now at a point where we can find something to watch that they are all interested in, and that works for us adults, too. Although we all love Pixar and Disney, after more than a decade of animated films we were ready for something a little more mature. Lately we’ve discovered a few sitcoms on Netflix. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is great one to start with if you have tweens – very funny and just edgy enough to thrill that age group.

We also worked our way through the entire nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother, a show that was beloved in its initial run by my husband and me. It turned out to be a little edgier than we remembered – although definitely hilarious, there were a lot of adult situations and romantic storylines that were definitely new to our youngest.

But here’s where we’re happy to have sat down to watch it together: we’ve been able to talk about it, to mitigate. We can talk about how Barney acts toward women, and whether or not his behaviour is appropriate. We can talk about Marshall and Lilly’s long marriage, and how they have to work to make that happen. We can answer questions that come up – sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes not with black-and-white answers – and we can hopefully give them a good foundation for coming to us in the future with their issues, their concerns and their problems.

Plus, we have a ton of inside jokes now – any one member of the family can say, “I got it at the ren-NAY-sance fair” and we’ll all be in stiches, and every one of us knows all the words to “Let’s Go To The Mall.” It truly has been a shared experience, and hopefully one that is mindful, mitigated and gives them a successful model to follow.

How about you – do you binge watch as a family? Do you find it to be a good shared experience? How do you handle the television at your house?

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