TV Shows Then & Now: What Are Our Kids Watching?

Studies show that kids -- even teenagers -- begin to emulate what they see on TV. Kids tend to watch TV shows and think that this is how real life is supposed to be. It sets their expectations of what is normal. I understand it may happen in some circles, but I really hope deviant sexuality, rampant drug use, and naked dating are not normal ... even in southern California. Do our TV shows reflect real life, or are the real lives of our children and teens beginning to reflect what they see on TV?

I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. The glory days of televised amazingness ... at least, the way I remember it.

MacGyver. The A-Team. Family Ties. The Cosby Show. Growing Pains. 

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Remember how tame those shows in the '80s were? The A-Team was about a bunch of mercenaries, but it was still family-friendly. MacGyver had people trying to kill him all the time, but he didn't like guns. The other shows featured loving families dealing with regular family issues. How to grow up. How to be good kids. How to be a respectful conservative when your parents were liberal hippies (Family Ties only.)

Even on The A-Team, the violence was pretty mild. Cars exploded. A rocket launcher or two were used. But there wasn't a whole lot of blood and gore. Not even on the medical shows. 

The 1990s were a little different. Home Improvement. Blossom. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. 7th Heaven. Picket Fences. We got to see a bare butt or two on NYPD Blue, and it was a big freaking deal. The family shows dealt with more drama and deeper issues (every episode of Blossom was a Very Special Episode). Paranormal shows like The X-Files became popular in the later 90s, along with adult cartoons. There were all kinds of crime dramas on the air.

But all those shows from the '80s and '90s still seem so innocent to me now, which is hilarious because I WAS HARDLY ALLOWED TO WATCH ANY OF THEM. Seriously. I wasn't allowed to watch He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which was a cartoon designed to sell toys. Why? Because my mom thought it was demonic, obviously. And She-Ra Princess of Power was not even open for discussion. When those two shows got together for a Christmas Special, it was like the very gates of hell had opened from within our Toshiba.

That wasn't all. As a kid, I couldn't watch Three's Company because it was about a man who lived with two women even though they weren't really shacking up (also, lots of subtle gay jokes). As a teenager, all of my friends got to watch Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. But nope, not me. Because characters on those shows had sex. (Lots of my friends had sex, too, in those days. It's a wonder I wasn't prevented from making eye contact with them.)

So, anyway, I've been thinking about those shows, and how so many of them were off-limits for me. And then I look at the shows on the air for older kids and teenagers now, and -- by the power of Greyskull! -- things have certainly changed. 

The preschool cartoon Caillou ostensibly contains valuable life lessons, but all my kids learn from it is how to be whiny and throw fits. The Simpsons is somehow both a '90s show and a contemporary show, and while it's genius, it also seems to teach kids to talk back to their parents or flat-out disobey. SpongeBob SquarePants is a 30-minute advertisement for all-purpose tacky behavior. And don't even get me started on the tween shows on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. I credit several of those shows for teaching my kids to roll their eyes and end their sentences with, "Hello!?!?"

Even on network TV, crime shows have become much more violent. Blood and gore are prolific. Reality TV depicts self-absorbed people at their worst. Kids watching TV today are exposed to more death, violence, and disturbing scenarios than ever before. I'm about to sound like a crotchety old schoolmarm, seriously. The Vampire Diaries, which seems aimed at teens, is filled with violence, underage drinking, and sex (because everyone know that vampires are sexy). Gossip Girl has famously featured a three-way sex scene, strip clubs, and drug use.

I don't want to seem like a prude, because I like some of these shows. I don't mind the sex or "adult situations." I love that they can lead to good discussions about morality or family dynamics. But it's jaw-dropping to compare the shows I was not allowed to watch as a teenager with shows that are deemed appropriate for teens today. 

My mom would have thrown the TV in the dumpster and then doused the whole alley with bleach if any of today's shows were available for viewing back then. Things are different today, Mom. Kinda makes you long for those innocent days of the Brandon-Dylan-Kelly love triangle on 90210.

As for my own kids, they don't watch much television in general. We are kicking it old-school with Little House on the Prairie, I Love Lucy, and The Cosby Show.

What were you not allowed to watch when you were growing up? Any hesitations about the programming your kids watch today?


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