One evening my 9-year-old son was flipping through the massive assortment of shows on Netflix and said, “This looks good!” Within seconds a familiar song filled our living room. “Everywhere You Look” was playing in unison to the smiling faces of the Tanner family.
Images of my much younger self watching Full House in my parents’ basement in the ’80s and ’90s flashed before my eyes. John Stamos and the gang were back!
For the next six months, we watched the three Tanner daughters, D.J., Stephanie and Michelle, literally grow up before our eyes on this popular American sitcom. Warner Bros. provided us with eight seasons of Tanner-hood squished into half a year of nightly entertainment. I used themes from several episodes as a segue to discuss challenging subjects with my son. These are my top five.
1. Single-parent families
Bob Saget plays lovable single dad Danny Tanner, whose wife recently passed away. I’m a single mom, so this was an obvious parallel, but single parenting is definitely not a new topic of discussion in our home. I have always taught my son that families come in many forms — some kids have two dads, some have two moms, some have one parent and some kids live with grandparents, other family members or even foster parents. Having a single parent portrayed on Full House left the door open for us to have more discussions about what constitutes a family.
2. Honesty and trust
It’s important for kids to know when it’s OK to tell a trusted grown-up the truth and break a friend’s secret. This is a tricky topic, and Full House handled it brilliantly. In Season 6, the extremely important subject of child abuse is dealt with in “Silence Is Not Golden.” Stephanie’s partner for her school project confides in her that his father is beating him and asks her to keep the secret, and she has to decide what to do. After this episode, my son and I talked about when it’s appropriate to tell a trusted grown-up a friend’s secret and get help, and when it’s not.
Don’t give up. If you fall down, get right back up and try again. A perfect life lesson! In Season 5, Episode 13 (“Easy Rider”), we watch Michelle fall off her two-wheel bike and crash into the bushes. She wants to stop riding forever. But good ol’ Joey won’t hear of this. It was five years ago when I took off the training wheels and taught my little guy to ride a bike, and there was lots of falling and crashing. After watching this episode, we discussed other scenarios in life where not giving up on something difficult is essential.
4. Peer pressure
In Season 7, Episode 5 (“Fast Friends”), we witness Stephanie dealing with peer pressure to smoke cigarettes from her new friends at school. She handles it extremely well, and I used her predicament to talk about not only the dangers of smoking but what to do when friends pressure you to try something you are not comfortable doing. As a parent, it’s often about finding that balance between not being preachy and giving helpful advice — in this case I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, since as a teenager I had my own share of high school smoking shenanigans.
Stephanie was an excellent role model because she stuck to what she believed was the right thing to do.
5. Don’t drink and drive — ever!
Sure, my son is 9 and won’t be getting behind the wheel anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the dangers of drinking and driving. In the last season of the show, Episode 10 (“Under the Influence”), we learn through a heartfelt speech by D.J. that a drunk driver killed her mother. D.J. tells Kimmy why she’s so upset that she had to literally remove her from a college fraternity party the night before because she was drunk and acting out of control. When we discussed this issue, my son said, “I can’t believe people would actually drink and drive in real life. I thought it was just on TV.” Of course, sadly, it’s often television that reflects reality.
But of course there are many ways that television does not depict reality at all. I am hopeful the new season of Fuller House will better portray gender roles, cultural and racial diversity and include LGBTQ relationships. After all, if we are going to use television as a way to teach children about the world, the shows we watch will need to reflect the actual world we live in.
Fuller House airs on Netflix starting Feb. 26.
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