Sunday, November 15, 2009

Luke & Laura, Stacey & Clinton, and Dora & Diego

Guiding Light, a soap opera that had been on the air for 72 years, aired its last episode this fall after years of lagging viewership. The news about the end of this program, which I grew up watching during school vacations, got me thinking about the larger cultural shifts that might be signaled by the ratings woes of soap operas in general. Obviously the audience for soaps has shrunk as more women have, by choice or by necessity, joined the workforce outside the home. But I am a stay-at-home mom, as are many of my friends - and none of us watches soap operas (as far as I know). We do, however, watch plenty of television, with and without our kids.

So is my generation of moms just looking for a different type of programming altogether?

I'm not so sure.

In fact, I wonder about the extent to which cable networks like TLC have stolen the traditional audience away from daytime soaps, all the while providing the same form of entertainment, just with slightly different packaging. Indeed, the amount of time I spend each week with Stacy & Clinton and Jon & Kate (not to mention the fabulous Randy of Kleinfeld's!) certainly rivals the hours a SAHM 25 years ago may have spent with Luke & Laura or Reva & Josh. And both types of programming offer the same opportunity for escapism - and who doesn't need a little bit of that while folding laundry, scrubbing spit-up off the carpet, or preparing dinner? Either way, a mom gets the chance to live in a fantasy world for a few minutes between diaper changes.

But maybe the dwindling ratings of soaps have less to do with what we’re watching and more to do with what our kids are watching.  While I can’t tell you exactly what my friends watch, I know – from the theme songs they belt out at the playground – that most of their kids have a close and personal relationship with Dora, Caillou (Big Boy’s personal favorite), and the other characters that populate Nick Jr. and Sprout.  I certainly cheered the study from Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School that found that “while…increased infant TV exposure is of no benefit to cognitive development, it was also found to be of no detriment,” but I wonder if letting our kids watch too much TV is just another means of escape.

Where do you stand on letting your children watch TV?  Why?  What other strategies do you have for “escaping” during the day?


  1. I am a big believer in television. Let me qualify... I do not believe in parking kids in front of television for hours on end as a means of babysitting. I do believe there is a virtue in letting our little creatures "escape" into colorful worlds of cartoon creatures. Both of my kids are very verbal and social, but love their characters and shows. To this day, I swear Toddler knows the names of more animals than I do because of television. (Thanks much, Diego.)

    I am not quite sure why this is often such a controversial issue. Presumably, it is just another thing about which we mothers choose to judge one another (because of our own inchoate insecurities about how we are faring as parents). Who knows. Okay, back to Mickey Mouse Playhouse :)

  2. My kids watch more TV than my pre-mommy self would have thought. Partly out of necessity (induced quiet time while the baby naps), partly because they enjoy it, partly because it's one way they can shift gears. Put on a 12-minuted episode of Roary, and they forget they were about to kill each other. And when it's done, they're ready to play again. TV has actually encouraged their already active imaginations. I watch more TV than ever, too. Because once those three munchkins are asleep? Who has the energy to do anything else? Recently I've picked up knitting, so at least I can be productive while vegging out to a Celtics game with my sweetie!

  3. Aidan, I think you make a great point about parents using different standards on TV watching as a way to compare ourselves to each other. And TV is such an easy target since we associate it with all sorts of other negatives: laziness, junk food, obesity.

    But I'm with both you and Jen: I've found that a few (okay several...okay many) well-timed shows have complemented Big Boy's imagination and knowledge. And I think we all agree that a little escape never hurt anyone.

  4. I watched plenty of tv as a kid and also read, wrote, played music, just played. Likewise, my two boys watched tv when they were little, and also read, drew, invented, played... of course, a lot of tv viewing has been replaced by internet oriented activities including interacting with their communities through texting and social media. But it hasn't in any way taken over their lives.

    My kids were entertained by tv - and there's nothing wrong with that. They also learned from tv, in different ways. And that's good stuff.

    We take cues from our kids; they take cues from us. And I, for one, will admit to having watched soaps through two fancy-shmancy educational institutions (along with jammed rooms full of others!) - and we all turned out ok, I think. (And I even remember Luke and Laura's wedding. OMG. Did I just admit that??)

  5. PS - Your sons are exactly the same age difference as my two. Believe me - you need some sort of little escape, and if tv or other entertainment buys you an hour somewhere when you need it - go for it and don't let anyone make you feel guilty. (Cool thing about kids that close in age - while it's hard in the first few years, they really will play with each other and watch out for each other. It's a wonderful thing to experience. Wonderful all round.)

  6. BigLittleWolf - Thanks for validating me and my TV-watching kids. It's always nice to be reminded that there is a light at the end of the tunnel vision induced by life with a toddler and an infant.

  7. Television is not as bad as people think. Research has shown TV in developing countries ties in with increased numbers of girls staying on at school, increased educational standards and childcare. Its through 'soap-operas' that TV educate people on ethics, morals and cleanliness - it promotes discussion and debate.


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