When I was a kid, I was a social nerd, often unaware of the pop culture that was taking place outside my front door. Until I was six, we never had a TV in our house. The day that my grandfather wheeled a twenty incher in on a movable stand, my world shifted. Suddenly, I was exposed to some of the secrets that everyone else was privy to. Although my brother and I were only allowed to watch a half hour a day, with our options fiercely regulated by my parents, I was enthralled with the new world that I came head to head with.
Over the years, my brother and I railed against the half hour limit that was strongly enforced while secretly indulging in our addiction whenever we could by visiting friends’ houses where TV was a free commodity and slyly arranging Friday night sleepovers so that we could watch Saturday morning cartoons to our hearts content.
Although I desperately hated the fact that we had a non-negotiable limit with no ability to rollover any missed TV into the next day and the fact that my parents would routinely get up and physically mute the TV during commercial breaks while providing social commentary about the manipulative and capitalistic nature of advertising and the effects that it was having on our brain, as a parent, I find myself doing the same thing.
At the age of three, my son still didn’t really watch TV. Since we don’t have cable, his idea of TV consisted of early Saturday morning Tai Chi. Although I sometimes worried that he too will be a social nerd, my concern is always tempered by something my dad told me.
When I was about eight and obnoxiously nagging him about our measly TV allotment, incessantly reminding him that everyone else was allowed to watch whatever they wanted, he told me that when he was a kid, he and his three brothers used to race home from school, run down to the basement, fight over who got to sit in the red chair, and watch hours of TV before and after dinnertime. Out of all of those hours of watching TV, he only remembered one episode clearly. At this point, he asked me if I thought that it was really worth it. I, being eight, naturally said yes, even though inside I knew the real answer.
And so, more than thirty years later, I find myself acting in keeping with what I know to be true. Although I sometimes fear that my son will also be a social nerd, unaware of the vast popular culture that lies out there from Archie comics to the hippest movie, I remind myself that my status as social outcast has not lasted into adulthood. And so, it’s my hope that my son’s childhood, like mine, is filled with activity, discovery, friendships, learning, books and excitement that will lay the foundation for a curious mind and interesting life, unencumbered by the habituation of watching life as a bystander and used to experiencing and living each moment to its potential.