There are lots of different activities that families do together to promote family bonding. Things like playing sports together or having family game nights, or camping, hiking. But our family’s favorite bonding experience? The bunch of us plopped on the couch with a cat or two strewn amongst us, watching TV.
I’ve always felt a little guilty that something so inert and seemingly non-interactive has been one of the most memorable and enjoyable ways that our family has spent time together. There’s a voice inside of me that says when our kids were growing up, we should have dressed them in their matching overalls (which of course of I have sewed out of the curtains), strapped on their little backpacks filled with granola bars and water and set out on a trekking adventure – ala the Sound of Music.
Instead, we’re sitting on our butts staring fish-mouthed at the TV.
But thanks to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, I now have some data that proves that watching TV together is actually a great way to bond. According to the study in the Journal of Adolescent Research, shared media viewing led to more positive functioning for adolescent boys and girls and “greater parental involvement” for both.
No need for me to feel guilty any more. The experts have quantified what I already felt was true – that when we watched TV together and laughed, and commented about what we were watching, and talked about it afterwards, we were developing – in research parlance – “positive social skills” in our children.
I remember when our kids were between the ages of 6 and 14 in the late 1990s. Every Saturday night, we looked forward to the line-up of our favorite TV shows. “Mr. Bean,” “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and “Iron Chef,” back when it was the authentic Japanese series with English subtitles.
Now, when our kids are visiting during college breaks or are on army leave and they are in the mood for the TV equivalent of comfort food, they’ll suggest popping in a MST3K DVD for family viewing. “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders” from Season 10, especially because it was partially filmed in Petaluma, is a perennial favorite.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we can (partially) credit Jennifer’s college scholarship to our family spending a day during Christmas break, binge watching “Cheers.” When her college application required her to write an essay about “If you could teach a course about anything, what would it be and why,” Jennifer, who aspires to be the next Amy Poehler, was ready with a full rationale about why she could fill a semester guiding students through why “Cheers” is “the best TV show that’s ever been,” as Amy says.
Jennifer is home from college for the summer. So what are the three of us bonding over? “Foyle’s War,” the British detective drama that takes place during WWII. Jennifer would never watch this on her own but sharing the experience as a family? You bet. She even surprised herself by saying, “I’m leaving my friend’s house a little early so I can come home and watch ‘Foyle’ with you.” When a teenager actually wants to spend time with their parents, you know something special is going on.