By Alexis Caffrey
Not long ago, programing schedules tethered us to our televisions.
You’d leave a dinner party early to catch Grey’s Anatomy. Wake up early to watch Wimbledon. Sneak out during the sermon to watch a Seattle Seahawks game.
The advent of TV apps – the mobile-living answer to the VHS video tape and DVR power – has spawned an untethered age in which you can bring TV shows with you to the bathroom or cheer on your favorite team while you power walk or cook dinner.
Awesome, right? Especially when you can stream shows for free through most TV providers: Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS, and Comcast all have apps with streaming and On-Demand content now. These networks allow users to download entire movies or even seasons of TV shows in a flash.
But if mom’s got The Bachelor on her tablet while dad tunes in to wrestling in the den and each kid has a small shining screen streaming Nickelodeon, what does that mean for family time?
Here are three ways to navigate screen-heavy waters, and prevent anyone in your family from becoming a bleary-eyed stranger.
1. Don’t make solo screen time evil
We all need our fix.
A little Mad Men might appeal to you, but your spouse would rather get lost in a little Scandal. The baseball playoffs are religious for one parent and two kids, but the other parent and youngest child don’t know a designated hitter from a designated driver.
Dedicate a timeframe in your busy days in which it’s OK to take a smartphone on the porch to binge a little on TV. When school’s in session, this time can serve as a reward for good grades or if homework is finished.
Takeaway: Not all screen time is bad, and it should be treated as a reward.
2. Place limits – on yourself, and your kids
Just say no.
One way to cut down on the rat race is to cut a little of the racing. Only you know what’s manageable to your family, but when kids have more than one after-school commitment, it can impact not only how well they can perform in it, but also how they behave outside of it.
Softball practice squeezes time to practice piano which compromises homework time. The first casualty is usually leisure time. How can a teen keep up with Glee when the other commitments push her late into the evening – especially when no one else in the house can stand her show?
Takeaway: If a kid can pour his heart into chess club, then come home, have a snack, do his homework, and relax by watching a show before dinner, make sure they are leaving some time for family, too.
3. Gather round the same TV
The evenings of story time by firelight in the frontier days are long gone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy quality family time. Sharing TV is better than sitting in silence around a dinner table.
Here are a few ways your family could embrace the age and gather around the TV together.
1. Find common ground
Everyone’s favorite programs seem so … out there. Unrelated. But when you can identify common ground, you have a place where everyone can at least give Merlin a chance. If an NFL star is on Dancing with the Stars, you have a built-in hook for family sports fans.
Parents might even want to give an episode or two of Good Luck Charlie a chance if they can find something relatable in the plot.
2. Share the love
Does no one else understand your fascination with Doctor Who?
Try this: Find an episode that you think at least one other family member could identify with. Challenge everyone in the family to find something about their favorite show or sport that the whole family might find interesting, and share it with everyone else.
It’ll at least be a lesson in tolerance; at most, you could gain an ally for the shows you love.
3. Show them the classics
Perhaps today’s kids won’t identify much with the children’s lives on Little House on the Prairie, but comedy and drama are ageless, and the differences between then and today might be enough to keep the kids engaged in a few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.
Takeaway: Alternating nights of Happy Days and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody might lead to a night you turn off the TV and talk about your favorite shows instead of watching them.
Alexis Caffrey is a freelance writer with a focus on technology. You can reach her via @alexiscaffrey or alexiscaffrey.com
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