Why my parenting playbook still includes ‘appointment TV’
As a Washington, D.C.-based public relations professional, I handle a daily mix of public affairs and crisis situations. It’s my job to advise clients on how to respond to news events, divisive issues and disturbing content.
Sometimes, I forget that my kids are exposed to and keenly aware of those same issues and events. My 15-year-old daughter and 11-yearold son are constantly bombarded by information, images and news stories — both fake and real — from classmates, teachers, friends and of course their ever-present mobile devices. While I am proud of how intelligent and intensely curious they are, I worry about their ability to process and understand the nonstop flow of daily information.
My fatherly hands have been forced to have earlier and deeper real-world conversations with my kids than my parents ever did with my brothers and me. We’ve talked about diversity and inclusion, gender and sexuality, cyberbullying and terrorism, and, most recently, suicide, thanks to the popularity of the Netflix hit “13 Reasons Why.”
My advice to other parents would be to embrace those conversations and lean into them fully.
It’s advice that springs from our decision to resurrect a family tradition declared dead years ago, with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and digital platforms that allow us to watch what we want when we want it: appointment television.
My wife and I recognized early in our parenting adventures that at the end of the day — conveniently around 6:30 or 7 p.m. — our kids felt the need to unload, often in patience-testing and mind-numbing detail, about everything that had happened to them that day. As they grew older, that venting took on increasingly ominous and disturbing undertones, and their anxiety over current events sometimes manifested itself in questions such as “Can that happen to us too, Daddy?” or “Why would someone do that, Daddy?” or the particularly heart-wrenching “Am I safe in my school, Daddy?”
Faced with sugar-coating the daily headlines or taking a head-on approach, we chose the latter. So for the past six years we have made a point of gathering each evening before or during dinner to watch one of the nightly network news broadcasts. We sit together on the couch and my wife and I become news chaperones, sounding boards, explainers and comforters and assurers that the world, despite all indications to the contrary, is not coming to an end.
The conversations continue long after the thankfully lighthearted “Inspiring America,” “On the Road” or “Person of the Week” pieces have wrapped the broadcast.
Occasionally, we also remind the kids not to talk about some stories at school the next day, as certain topics could be upsetting.
I feel confident that they are developing tools that will help them make sense of their waking world.
So give it a try. As my Dad did years ago with Walter Cronkite, pull up a chair with your sons and daughters and invite Lester Holt, David Muir or Scott Pelley into your living rooms.
Cronkite’s signature sign-off seems particularly relevant today in describing the pragmatic approach we’ve adopted as parents: “And that’s the way it is.”