Unless you live in a cave, you can’t avoid seeing one reality TV show or another. Whether it’s the antics of the Kardashians or the cut-throat world of Shark Tank, we have become avid viewers of “real life” as played out on our screens. And I readily admit to having watched my share of reality television, albeit in its early infancy.
In our house, I try not to cringe too much when my tween daughters clamor to watch American Idol. We rarely watch television, and without cable or satellite, our options are more limited than many of their peers. But American Idol is fairly safe in terms of content, and by watching with our kids, we can talk about the show.
While viewing AI the other day with my daughters, I realized reality TV had some good lessons for parents and kids.
- Give honest, yet kind, feedback. If American Idol has taught us anything, it’s that parents need to be honest with their children about their talents. Telling a teen that she can sing when her notes usually veer off into outer space isn’t kind—it’s actually rather cruel. We shouldn’t puff up our teens with dreams of stardom, but instead encourage the hard work that goes along with becoming proficient and perhaps even excellent.
- Provide a reality check. Contestants on these reality TV shows aren’t really showing us their true selves—everything’s been edited for maximum drama and to fit into a preconceived “story arc” narrative. Reminding our kids that reality doesn’t mean real can help them to have a more balanced view of life in general. On shows with a “winner,” we often hear contestants who are cut saying things as if their world has ended. At those points, it’s good to talk with our kids about the fact that winning isn’t everything, and that there is a lot more to life than being number one. In other words, if they don’t win, it’s truly not the end of the world.
- Ground them in the things that really matter. Fame is a fickle mistress and money doesn’t buy happiness. The more we talk about what’s important in life—family, friends, faith, health—and put those words into action with our choices as a family, the more that message will override the one that reality TV all too often shows our kids: That pursuit of wealth and fame is a good thing to which one should aspire.
- Snarkiness might make good television, but it makes lousy friends. Sarcasm, cynicism, and snappy comebacks can become a reality TV show’s goldmine in terms of viewers, but in real life, having such an attitude won’t win you many friends. Pointing out to our children see the benefits to kindness, compassion and honesty is essential to their developing a good conscious and a positive outlook on life.
- Hard work has real rewards. The idea that we can get something for nothing is very tempting to many of us, but we shouldn’t cultivate that desire within ourselves. Unfortunately, these reality TV shows can create a feeling of discontentment in our hearts that make us want things for which we haven’t worked. We should instill in our children that working hard is good for us, and that a job well done is its own reward. One easy way to accomplish this is to assign chores to every child—but don’t pay them for their regular contributions to the family.
- Life isn’t fair. Things happen beyond our control and sometimes that means we don’t get our heart’s desire at that moment. But life is full of ups and downs, and the more we help our children handle the ups as well as the downs by allowing them to sink or swim on their own, the more we equip them to face life with purpose and equity. Life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean we have to despair. It just means we pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and start all over again.
So the next time you tune in a reality TV program, look for the hidden lessons—and be sure to pass those along to your children.
Until next time,