When I was a kid in the 80s and early 90s, Friday night meant one thing: TGIF. Whether I was at home with my family or at a sleepover, we were watching those four shows: Full House, Family Matters, Perfect Strangers and Just the Ten of Us (later replaced by Step By Step). When you got to school the next week, you could talk to your friends about your favorite Tanner sister. When you did something clumsy, you could ask, “Did I do that?” in a nasally voice and know that everyone would be laughing with you, not at you.
That’s not something my kids understand. They rarely watch live tv at all, so they’re certainly not having the same viewing experiences as their friends, and I’m just beginning to understand all we lost when that stopped happening.
Shared experiences bond us together, and on a deep level, we crave that experience. I know that’s why I read Where the Crawdads Sing a couple of years ago. I may not love books that focus on nature, but I wanted to know what everyone else was talking about. That’s why women readers keep approaching each other this summer to ask “Have you read Verity?” We want to know what kept other people up at night. I know I begged my friends to watch Schitt’s Creek when I discovered it because I wanted other people to laugh when I said, “I have asked you thrice” to my children.
We want those moments, but they’re getting harder and harder to come by. Surrendering your autonomy and letting others choose what you watch (or read or listen to) is getting harder and harder. About seventeen years ago, several other English teachers and I organized a literary festival. We got four authors to agree to come to our school. We told the students they had to read two of the books written by two of those authors to attend. We got about 20 percent of the kids to do that! Fast-forward less than ten years when we tried to do it again… and bombed spectacularly. I think we got about 5 percent of the kids to agree to read two books chosen by the organizing group. What happened in between?
I know, I know, someone else blaming smartphones for the downfall of society… but yes. They’re the bad guy in this article, too. With a smartphone, you don’t have to agree with anyone about what you watch or listen to or read, and everyone has a million choices. Back in the day, my sister and I had to agree on what we’d watch on television. Of course it led to fights, but those fights were good for our social development. Moreover, we ended up watching those shows together, talking and laughing. We experienced Ross and Rachel’s relationship together, we watched Elaine try to dance on Seinfeld, and those moments became a part of our shared history.
Today’s kids don’t get that as often. Your Mickey Mouse fan and Paw Patrol fan can each watch on their own device. They’ve had fewer moments of shared joy– of cheering on the same character or booing the same villain, and it only gets worse as they get older. What can we do, short of turning back the clocks? We can show our kids that joy on a smaller scale within our homes. We sat down as a family and watched Hocus Pocus last night, and you can be darn sure we’ll be doing it again when Hocus Pocus 2 comes out, and I’ll announce it on my social media, too. Maybe it will inspire some of my friends to make a date to watch it, too, so we can all, kids and adults alike, debate which version was better the next day.
We might not be able to count on millions of ten-year-olds doing the same thing on a Friday night, but we can go big on our excitement when we get to share experiences with the kids we know– pop the popcorn and stay up after talking about which witch is your favorite. Help the next generation feel the power of shared entertainment.
And show them reruns of Family Matters.
I'm so grateful to have you here with me. I LOVE being a mom, but I'm trying to still be "me" while being a mom, & this blog has been a tool for me to figure that out. Hopefully it's that for you, as well. I look forward to hearing from you so that I can make this blog meaningful for you. Thanks for being here!