At 22 years old, I’m probably too young to use the phrase “back in my day.”
But I’m going to use it anyway. Back in my day, TV shows didn’t demean parents. We’ve all surely seen at least one program that does just this: Parents are portrayed as sticks in the mud, socially out of touch, or, in the worst cases, borderline imbeciles.
And with parents portrayed as such, their teenage counterparts have endless fodder for sarcastic, disrespectful remarks.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to every TV show currently on the air. There are many that have well-developed, interesting characters that accurately echo real life relationships.
Unfortunately, however, there seem to be far too many that fall into the first category, and, sadly, not all of them are targeted solely at young people.
A while back, I was watching a primetime program — ABC’s “The Neighbors” — with my family. Since that episode aired, the show has since been canceled, but it still remains an unsettling example of the message we seem to hear more and more often.
In the show, the main family’s youngest daughter turns to her parents and bluntly says, “You’re just no fun …. You’re parents, and if you were fun, we’d be dead.”
That statement shocked me. When did parents become nothing more than a buffer between a child’s impulses and imminent doom? What happened to being a role model? To being a source of advice and affection?
All those many things that make a family exactly that — a family — seem to have dried up in the light that is 21st century television. Parents and children have always had conflicts. But, in the past, there was always that sense of mutual respect and love.
Since I’ve gotten older, my parents have grown to be more than just my mom and dad. They really have become friends. I know they are my biggest supporters, and I hope they know that I am theirs.
But, nowadays (if television is to be believed), parents are nothing more than a punchline of countless jokes, an obstacle to be overcome and a leash preventing too-stupid decisions.
I can’t help but wonder when this happened. I think back on many of the shows I loved growing up (“Lizzie McGuire,” “Boy Meets World,” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” to name a few), and, in those, the divide between parent and child didn’t seem so severe.
The shows were funny, with parents and children both making mistakes and learning from them, but at all times, parents were still the figures of authority, discipline, advice — and, believe it or not, sometimes even fun.
But that is simply not the case with most shows nowadays.
For example, in one episode of Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie,” Gabe, the youngest son, uses aftershave before meeting his first crush. When his balding father asks why (because he doesn’t shave), Gabe replies, “As long as we are being logical, why do you still have a comb?”
Researching tween shows (some canceled but still played often in reruns, and others still going strong), I came across another startling discovery. In many shows, parents aren’t just boring old fogies, they’re nonexistent.
So what are children learning? That parents have no place in their lives — or that the part they have is very small, overshadowed by endless adolescent wit and high school antics.
According to research completed in 2011 by Amy B. Brown of Cleveland State University, disrespect was rampant among many of the popular shows at the time. The study examined a variety of disrespectful behavior directed at both adults and peers.
The study recorded Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life on Deck” as having 121 disrespectful acts in only three episodes. Assuming each episode is the typical 22 minutes, that means disrespectful behavior occurred roughly every 30 seconds. The least disrespectful show studied was “Wizards of Waverly Place,” which still featured roughly 16 disrespectful actions per episode.
What is more unsettling, however, is that, of the 468 acts examined, only two were met with any sort of attempt to correct the behavior.
Of course, the argument could be made that these shows are nothing but mindless comedies. They are entertainment, nothing more or less.
And while I think parents and peers have far more sway over a child’s perspective than anything on a screen, I doubt anyone would say that television has no influence at all.
How many tweens copy the outfits of their favorite television stars? How many singers float to popularity on the screams of young girls? How many high school cliques copy those on afternoon shows?
None of that is new, of course. Pop culture has always had a strange power over young minds. But why does it seem that such power must also place a sharp wedge between family values and the young people who need them the most?
Sarah Allen is a columnist for the Hillsboro Times-Gazette, a Civitas Media newspaper in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.