Dropping school bags at the door, my two teenagers headed for the family room. One grabbed the remote, and they both threw themselves onto couches. The room lit up with the blue-grey light from our TV. Channels skipped by quickly. They were quiet, focused entirely on the images zooming past.
Watching from the kitchen, I tried to engage them in conversation.
I asked about homework, classes, extra-curricular activities.
Coming into the family room, I placed myself between my boys and the screen and asked, “What are you watching?”
“Nothing,” they responded.
Setting some snacks on the coffee table, I turned off the TV and sat down on the floor to talk to my sons. Their eyes slowly left the darkened screen and turned to look at me. They knew it was pointless to fuss. They leaned toward the snacks, grabbed a handful and waited.
“How was your day?” I tried again.
“I did well on my test,” my oldest began. “Even knew the extra credit."
It’s not that TV is a bad thing. It is not that we do not watch. But over these years of parenting, I have come to understand that I can use it as a tool or let it build a wall.
There are times when the stillness and peace that a program provides is a wonderful and needed thing. Some days are frazzled and full and overflowing and watching a program can help us to catch our breath.
But when the TV goes on and my kids are engrossed and conversation ends, the wall it builds is not worth the watching. The myriad of mindless programs aimed at tweens and teens can offer a giggle or a silly reprieve. But a constant diet of this uses time that could be spent in many other ways.
Even when I am tired, it is my desire to connect with my kids. And it is my hope that they connect with each other. All of this takes time. It takes minutes and hours spent kicking a soccer ball outside, riding their bikes, or taking a walk, to build a sibling relationship that will outlast their father and me.
Sometimes I can use TV to accomplish these goals. When we sit together at night and watch a program as a family, we share the experience and have something new to discuss. Processing what we have seen, understanding the good and the bad, the choices and mistakes, can help us to teach our children more about how to choose and what place our faith can have in the midst of real-life situations. Helping them to reflect on what they see can build their worldview so that they learn to see situations and experiences through the lens of faith.
Sitting over snacks with my two teen boys, I knew what I wanted to do: bring down the wall, eliminate the distraction, and spend some time connecting with them.
Later that night, homework done, we sat together and watched TV. We laughed out loud, responded with outrage and talked about what we saw. And while what we watched may not matter in the long run, the fact that we shared it does. In a year or two, we will not remember this episode-- we may not even remember the show-- but the discussion that followed and the lessons we share will stick with our family for a long time to come.