Five Family Rules for Happy TV Watching

It started with Christmas movies in Advent. They almost all anticipate the holiday to come. Christmas in Connecticut, Santa Claus is coming to Town, Miracle on 34th Street, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol.

Then we were hit with violent colds, putting some kids to bed with fevers, stocking up on honey and lemons for the magical “medicine water” that soothes throats and keeps my water averse 5-year-old hydrated. We watched episodes of Bewitched, Sleeping Beauty and an old Western with a youthful Gary Cooper so forgettable, I forgot its name.

Now, I recline on my bed at 8 a.m., dancing the fingers of my right hand across the keyboard while my left arm rests wholly occupied in the snuggling of a baby, one week old.

Stella Chiara came into our lives 12 days early. Would we have broken the television habit had she been born on time? I doubt it. Here are my rules for keeping regular movie watching from turning my children into sleepy-eyed, sharp-tongued, short-on-nerves, couched potato monsters.

First, I pick the movie

The more they ask and request a particular flick, the less likely I am to play it. We repeat many films annually by holiday, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and repeat some by the weather, Winnie the Pooh on particularly blustery days.

Second, we vary the decade in which the film was made.

This means my children will view silent films from the 1920s, slapstick comedies from the 1930s, Westerns, war movies, and romantic comedies from the 1940s, cartoons from the 1950s (earlier and later), ambitious cinematic epics from the 1960s, and worthwhile cartoons from the decades between then and now. Black and white is not a novelty. Movies in which characters primarily talk instead of run around are not a novelty. Live-action movies with few children are not a novelty. In this, I seek to avoid the attitude I recall among my peers, “black and white is boring!”

Third, we aim for low stimulation cinema.

There is something about the repeated explosions of a Michael Bay film that I do not think is good for children. The fast-paced film, rapid cutting and scene changes challenge the later ability to focus even for adults. Compare that to Mr. Roger’s slow-paced, slow-talking goodness. Even television, which is not necessary for a good childhood, can be enjoyed like a sweet without artificial flavors.

Fourth, we aim for a variety of mediums.

My children may watch a filmed play, a ballet, a film adaptation of a story, or a television show, sometimes vintage-like Zorro, sometimes new like Puffin Rock. My children are eager to watch anything. That is the lure of technology.

Using that to my advantage, we come to the fifth rule.

We require their rooms to be cleaned and pajamas are worn to watch.

We do not watch television in the morning. This acts as motivation for the work to be done. It will backfire when we want them to clean their room just out of obedience, but we shall cross that bridge when we get there. New babies require some compromises in running the household.

Knowing we will need to keep calm in the home a while yet before normal day-to-day functioning returns, instead of picking the easiest thing to watch, I have planned an intentionally diverse line-up that will include The Tempest, performed at the Globe Theater; Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush, a little California history that way; a Charlie Brown special that has football in it, it being Super Bowl season; and later on, Horse Feathers by the Marx Brothers, another football flick.

Our movies are found on DVD sets, Netflix and most often, requested from the library system and delivered to Hughson from all over the County.

It is not for everyone.

But the day we were bedridden with colds, fevers and, in my case, full-term pregnancy and played The Nutcracker ballet back-to-back and I found my children not-so-rotten when it was over, I felt I hit upon a secret worth practicing in my home, and sharing with others.

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