Let’s get real: Reality shows you can watch with your kids
When Kid Nation aired this past year, bloggers around the world questioned the parents who could be irresponsible enough to send their kids to a show that might exploit them or put them in harm’s way. But when I watched the show with my daughters, then 6 and 8, we had a terrific time. We talked about how hard it is to be a leader, what it’s like to make unpopular (but important) decisions, and how they’d feel if they were separated from family and friends for 6 weeks.
You can find a wealth of great reality shows you'll enjoy watching – and discussing – with your kids. And that's really the key: make TV time a family event instead of a mindless pastime. Here's a roundup of family-friendly reality shows that you can watch with your kids and use as springboards to talk about important topics.
Eight kids – four from the States and four from the U.K. – head to camp in Florida where they meet exotic animals, brave the wilds, and share amazing experiences. If your kids need a break from shopping malls and Starbucks, this show is definitely off the beaten path. The series originally aired in March and is repeating on Discovery Kids throughout the summer.
Trading Spaces: Family
Although the show isn't airing any new episodes, it is family-friendly fare, and reruns can be found ad infinitum on TLC. Each standalone episode features two neighbor families, each challenged to redecorate one room in the other family's home. If your kids are into home remodeling or decorating, this show could be fun to watch.
Dancing with the Stars
You know how everyone becomes gymnastics and ice skating experts during the Olympics? This show is kind of like that for the rest of the time. It's wholesome entertainment, the contestants demonstrate good sportsmanship, and you follow the contest over the course of a season.
This show follows teenage teams in their efforts at world conservation and protection of different ecosystems. The kids spend three weeks at their location (the desert, the jungle, and so on) helping endangered species, cleaning the environment, and making the world a better place. Of course, there are a few challenges thrown in, but the idea is to work together to get the job done. This is a great show for kids who love animals or travel or want to see that kids can make a difference in the world.
The Amazing Race
Contestants compete to race over approximately 30,000 miles to a pre-determined finish line. They travel by planes, trains, cars, and any other available means of transportation. You'll see an incredible amount of teamwork and resourcefulness, and you'll also get a glimpse of other cultures and places around the world.
The best way to make sure that a show's content is appropriate for your kids is to watch the show together. Make it a family event, or something special that you do with one child. After the episode (or during, if necessary), talk about it together. Ask your kids questions. Here are a few to get you started:
- What would you like most about being on this show?
- What do you think you would have done differently from this person?
- How would you feel if you were in this situation?
- Why do you like/dislike this person?
- Who do you think you would be friends with on this show? Why?