10 Ways TV Has Changed American Culture


Decline in Quality Family Time

family using electronic gadgets
Even though this family is watching TV "together," they really aren't. For quality family time, get away from all electronic gadgets -- including the TV set. Eric Audras/ONOKY/Getty Images

Families spend more than 31 hours watching television each week, on average, while spending only around 38 minutes of the entire week having screen-free interactions with each other [sources: Westphal, Dinner Trade]. This is a drastic decline in family time compared to the pre-TV days, when families would -- at the very least -- gather around the table each evening to chat over supper [source: Dinner Trade].

Some experts will say that any time you spend together can count as quality time; others say that time spent viewing television with kids isn't quality, because family members aren't interacting all that much while watching TV. Or if they do, it's short little conversations between commercials or even by social media rather than meaningful discussions [sources: Westphal,Yale Medical Group.

This decline is worsened by the fact that since the late '70s and early '80s, Americans have been watching TV more on their own, says Dr. David Ostroff of the University of Florida. During that period, televisions got cheaper, and families went from having a single TV set in the living room to having a TV in practically every room of the house. Plus, with hundreds of channels to choose from -- not to mention devices like iPads that stream TV shows -- it's less likely a family will even find one show they can all agree to watch.

To make TV less isolating, kids and parents should watch shows together, particularly when the children are small, so they can talk about the shows afterward and discussing any controversial points. Better yet, turn off the TV and do a family activity like playing a board game or taking a walk in the park. Here, parents and children can concentrate on each other completely without the competition of the boob tube.

Author's Note: 10 Ways TV Has Changed American Culture

I was thrilled about this assignment, because (confession!) TV is a big part of my life. My husband and I both studied television in college, and we watch a lot of TV. I know, the Kill Your Television crowd probably doesn't approve, but I love good TV, and I'm not sorry!

That episode of "This American Life" that I quoted in the introduction is one of my all-time favorite episodes of that radio series. There was something validating about hearing Ira Glass talk about his favorite TV shows. There's a moment in the episode when he confessed that not only do he and his wife watch "The O.C." religiously -- a show I was also watching at the time -- but they sang the theme song together. Loudly. Something about that made me feel a connection with Glass. I know, it might sound kind of silly, but I think that good TV has a way of bringing us together.

It was also around this time in 2007 that my friends and I got really into watching "Lost." We wouldn't just watch the show. We would get together every week for a viewing party with themed snacks and drinks and sit on my porch for hours afterward hatching theories and anticipating the next episode.

TV gets a bad reputation sometimes, but I think there's something special about some of the shows that have been coming out in the last 5-10 years. Watching good TV is more than just zoning out. You're engaged, thinking, theorizing, and I think there's an intrinsic value in that.

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