There's perhaps no better humblebrag among parents today than the declaration that their kids don't watch TV. Ever.
This confession can mean two, sometimes separate, things. One, that the parents are wealthy enough to afford all the help they need and never have to rely on a cartoon to buy time to get dinner made. Two, that they are so utterly devoted to their children that they would never dare subject their little ones to such junk — no matter how desperately they might need a break. One way or the other, they are better than you.
This hybrid superiority/guilt complex surrounding television is only heightened during the summer. This is the season of wide-open days and overheated kids, and the seduction of TV becomes all the more tempting. "Kids Don't Remember Their Best Day of Television" reads a meme that makes it way around every summer, often placed on top of some cherubic little ones leaping into the sunset or gazing into a lake. The message is clear: To tune in is to transgress.
But wait. Am I the only one who remembers my best day of television? Actually, it was days. And they really were the best.
My best days of television took place the summer between my sophomore and junior year, in-between summer school in the morning (for some reason we all took it to "get ahead") and volleyball practice in the afternoon. Every weekday for two months straight I would watch Loveboat reruns with my little sister in my older brother's already abandoned bedroom on a tiny, old TV. We'd spread out on his brown comforter, maximizing contact with the air conditioner, and eat apples and a signature dip I fashioned out of peanut butter, honey, and two packets of Equal. (For this, I do feel some shame. It was the '90s.) Apart from a sing-a-long during opening credits, we spent most of the hour silent, experiencing the bliss of simple delights and, dare I say, transcendence by way of purposelessness. I will never forget it.
I write this because TV is in need of a serious makeover. We are living in, materially speaking at least, puritanical times with the rich opting for cleanse diets, sugar-free birthday cakes, and minimalist home design. This complicated relationship with abundance also manifests itself in our suspicion of simple pleasures — most particularly the ones which all of us, rich and poor, have access to. It's an age when, say, attending a Japanese kite design workshop for $175 is something parents all too willingly boast about, while letting their kids watch Frozen again is either a source of shame or a well-acknowledged temporary defeat.
This fear of television is rooted in the idea that watching it is bad for you. It isn't. A careful look at the studies done on television reveals only that watching too much television can be bad for you — though even then it is likely a combination of television and whatever else is going on in the home that has a kid sitting in front of a screen for more than two hours a day. I'm no social scientist or psychologist, but pretty much everyone I know grew up watching television and ended up OK.
So here's a call for guiltless TV watching this summer. Maybe it will be because the kids need a break, or because mom and dad need a vacation, or maybe just because watching TV is fun and summer is supposed to be the season during which we set our sights on pleasure. No, TV shouldn't be a replacement for playing outside or visiting new places, but it can be the perfect coda to a long-day in the sun, a chance for the family gather on a couch and allow their minds to drift, together.