I was at a Halloween party last month sitting among vampires and ninjas, when another father and I began discussing the TV habits of our kids.
“I watch, but I don’t watch, if you know what I mean,” he explained. “I mean it’s on, my eyes are watching it, but I’m not really watching it. My mind is somewhere else.”
I knew what he meant. I found my son’s first TV interests kind of unbearable. Let me be the first to admit that I was a TV junkie growing up, so TV was and is a big part of my life, for better or worse. With the birth of my son, however, my wife and I are (or were) very careful about the type and duration of TV our son watches. At first, we only allowed PBS and/or videos, but not a lot of commercial TV. Because of this, his first real media loves were Blues Clues, Curious George, and Thomas the Tank Engine. As a person who works with kids, I can appreciate the repetitive and sing-song nature of TV shows for younger kids, but it’s a bit mind-numbing for a man in his 30s. He and I would watch them repetitively (and read the books time and again) to the point at which I’d become completely deadened to the whole experience. For me, these shows became a sort of narcotic. I would pop one in for my son, we’d set up on the couch, and I’d fall asleep before the theme song was over.
In spite of this, I knew every word to every Thomas song, and could recite just about every tank engine name (even the names of those pesky diesel engines). When we’d play, I loved the trains and the tracks, and all that went with them, but the stories and show were a tough pill to swallow. Those were some of the times that I’ve felt the most like an undead dad around my son, and I hated it. Although I wanted to share in his full enthusiasm about the shows, I couldn’t get there.
In some ways, his later interests really saved me from becoming a drooling mess of a TV partner. It was probably Star Wars that first really sparked my interest. As a dad, there’s nothing quite like seeing your son reliving the same passion you once held as a young kid, but that’s the subject of another post.
His current love is Ninjago. On the face of it, it seems like a terrible thing to love: it’s basically a TV show developed to sell ninja Lego sets to kids. In most ways, I thought I’d hate it. He started talking about it because the next door neighbor loved it. I broke down and watched an episode with him, and that was all it took. I was instantly enamored.
The show is set in the land of Ninjago where four ninja and their master are reclaiming the four golden weapons needed to overthrown the maniacal Lord Garmadon, who threatens the land with his dark forces of skeletons (season 1) and snakes (season 2). The bulk of the shows are about a Vader-Luke type of conflict between Lord Garmadon and his son Lloyd Garmadon, who turns out to be ***SPOILER ALERT*** the Green Ninja, prophesied to restore peace to the land.
The storylines of the shows are actually incredible, with lots of action, twists, and funny dialogue. My son loves it, and recites lines throughout the day, and I find myself doing the same. For the first time, we actually like the same TV show! It’s even come to the point of us DVRing all the new episodes and counting down episodes to the “final battle”, which was hottly anticipated in my house.
That’s what I love about TV, it’s the anticipation of new episodes, storylines, and character development. Although my TV obsession comes with its own problems, I do love TV’s ever-evolving nature, which builds up a lot of anticipation. That’s the element missing from all the mind-numbing shows for young kids. They’re so formulaic, you know exactly what’s going to happen each time, and then end up watching the same things over and over. So, now that my son’s into a good show, I find that I’ve found a new experience to share: TV anticipation! It’s really woken me up, and I can be more alive with him and actually enjoy myself. So, for all those fathers suffering through endless Barney or Wiggles episodes, there may be hope for you yet.
Go Ninja Go!