The stars of MTV’s most popular reality TV shows are pregnant, intoxicated or incarcerated. Experts help you find teachable moments when watching reality TV with your kids.
Allow it… a little
“Handle ‘junk TV’ the way you handle junk food: in moderation — once a week, for example,” says doctor of psychology and hypnotherapist Nancy Irwin. “Let them know that these shows are a fun, mindless treat now and then.”
As you watch with your child, ask them questions such as, “Do you know anyone at school who deals with these issues?” or “What do you think about teen pregnancy?” It’s a great way to open a dialogue on important topics.
“Let them know that you struggled with your thoughts about these issues when you were a teen too,” added Dr. Irwin.
Be curious with your kids
“Most kids are just curious,” explains Dr. John Duffy, author of The Available Parent. You can be curious, too, about why your child finds the shows so enthralling.
“Attempt to be non-judgmentally curious about your child’s interest in the show. You may gain some insight into the workings of your child’s mind.
Adolescent and family psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent, agrees. “Parents are more likely to be heard, or even embraced, if they present themselves as curious observers,” says Dr. Walfish. “Watching TV together presents a gold chance to connect through talking, and talking is the glue that holds relationships together.”
“Explain to children that these shows, although called ‘reality TV,’ do not reflect real life,” says Walter Meyer, author of Rounding Third. “The shows are highly edited and somewhat scripted and directed.”
Remind your kids that some people will do anything — degrade and embarrass themselves — for their 15 minutes of fame. “If you want fame or fortune, there are better ways to achieve it,” adds Meyer, “ways that improve the world, not make it less harmonious.”
“TV is now and has always been the land of make-believe,” says Dawniel Patterson Winningham, author of Girl! Power. “The faster we help our kids realize that, the faster they will start to view it as what it really is… entertainment.”
Help your child create a positive sense of life
The kids who are most affected by the negatives of reality TV are those who lack a positive reality in their own home or community, explains Constance Dunn, author of Practical Glamour. “The best counteraction to having your child infected with the worst of pop culture is to show him or her some positive, alternative realities,” Dunn says.
Watching raunchy TV “is the equivalent of throwing a paper sack of fast food and a bottle of soda on the table for dinner each night instead of cooking a nutritious meal,” says Dunn. “Offer nourishing, valuable culture to your kids by seeking out positive TV shows that transmit a positive sense of life.”
Dunn adds, “The greater the positives your child experiences in day-to-day life, the smaller (or more laughable) the smut will become.”