The Joys of Watching Television as a Family
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, my brother and I didn’t have televisions in our bedrooms, so most of our TV viewing took place in the living room. We’d often watch shows together as a family, our eyes glued to the screen when our favorite hour-long dramas or thirty-minute sitcoms were on. We got to know all the characters in The Love Boat, Dallas, Hawaii 5-0, Remington Steele, Knight Rider, The White Shadow, and countless more. And we’d laugh at silly scenes during Three’s Company, Growing Pains, The Golden Girls, and Cheers, to name a few. We’d read TV Guide Magazine and plan our evenings around the scheduled shows we enjoyed. For the most part, we had similar television interests, but, like most siblings, we had our share of fights, particularly when we’d steal a special seat on the couch because one of us would forget to call out, “I get my place back,” before leaving to get a snack or go to the bathroom. As adults, we thankfully get along well, and to this day, we still reminisce about the shows that played such a big role in our upbringing.
With the availability of streaming services, along with an excessive array of shows to choose from, our children are growing up in an entirely different age of TV viewing than I did. Without a doubt, my children have surpassed me in the number of hours they’ve spent binge-watching shows on their electronic devices in their bedrooms. Who can blame them? Screen time has become an integral part of our culture.
The downside of my children’s TV-watching addiction is that, in our home, it has become more of a solitary activity, rather than something we do as a family. Every now and then, my husband and I will watch a series together or he’ll beg one of the kids to watch something with him. When the kids were younger, we spent a lot more time cuddled next to each other on the couch in front of the television. Back then, I never realized that family TV time would, one day soon, become rare.
Once the kids hit the teen years, their lives became much busier as they were trying to balance academics, extra-curricular activities, and social lives. Most evenings after dinner, the kids would head straight to their bedrooms to finish homework, and then they would spend ample time on their devices, watching shows, playing video games, chatting with friends, and scrolling through their social media accounts.
Even though our electronic devices are powerful tools to keep people connected outside the home, they also have the power to keep those living in the same home apart, which has been the case with my family—until recently, when I saw the value of watching a television show with my daughter, Taylor.
When Little Fires Everywhere first came out, Taylor and I were excited to watch it together, but since the series wasn’t released all at once, we had to wait each week for the next episode to come out. Initially, we were bummed that we couldn’t binge all eight episodes in a day, but in hindsight, it turned our shared viewing experience into a pleasurable ritual that we looked forward to every Wednesday. Afterward, we’d discuss the characters, the plot, some of the controversial themes, and how it differed from the book. When we finished the entire series, we felt a heavy letdown, not just because the show had ended, but because of what the show did for us—it had given us an opportunity to hang out and bond over a shared interest.
I’ve always considered watching TV as a perfect, mindless escape. It’s like taking a short trip into other people’s lives. For those few hours, staring at the screen, you tend to forget about your own problems while getting immersed in another world. But now I see that it can also serve another purpose, as an ideal group activity that offers a way to connect and spend time with others. While my kids are still under my roof, I’ll keep trying to find shows or movies that all of us would like, and when I do, I’ll be sure to relish the shared experience in the moment and be grateful for our together-time.