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The power of television to help or hinder our parenting efforts

by Traci Schumacher on Fri, 03/08/2013 - 10:25am

For some time now my daughter has been reading her way through the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and thoroughly enjoying them. So, recently I bought Season One of the television series, and all three kids and I have been watching it.

Having grown up watching Little House on the Prairie, I was quite nostalgic to see it again, even tearing up a little when the theme music started. Happily, I was not at all disappointed. The series is just as good as, or even better than, I remembered it. The characters and the storylines are compelling, and there is always a good moral lesson or two.

But what has really amazed me, watching it now as a parent, is the way the show consistently teaches values and good character. Kindness, doing the right thing even when it's difficult, honesty, courage, good manners, and more. These are all traits I strive to cultivate in my children, so I love to let them watch good stories that reinforce our values. It is so refreshing. I feel like Little House on the Prairie is working with me rather than against me like many of today's shows.

And I am struck, more dramatically than ever before, by the sad television offerings we have today, many of which fail parents so miserably in the effort to encourage kids in strong moral character. The difference is like night and day. Even Disney, which I used to regard as kid-friendly, continually produces sarcastic, rude, selfish, and disrespectful characters in their line-up as they try to be “relevant” and "funny," I guess. Is it a case of art reflecting real life or the other way around? Maybe both, caught in a downward spiral?

Whatever the case may be, I think the result is that our pop culture all around us serves to undermine our best parenting efforts. This in itself is a great reason to severely limit “screen time.” I'm not saying that any child who watches mainstream television is going to grow up morally bankrupt and lacking in character. I'm just saying that our modern programming often reinforces the very habits we parents are fighting against, thus making character development all the more difficult and challenging. Why put up with that when parenting is hard enough already?

I guess it wasn't really a new revelation to me that many modern television programs are morally deficient. The surprise came when I watched Little House on the Prairie and was reminded just how incredibly wholesome and morally proactive television used to be. Sadly, it's hard to imagine a series so positive and family-friendly even standing a chance in the mainstream today.

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