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Benefits of the Boob Tube

TV Teaches Kids Survival Skills


Wednesday, March 13, 2013
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I’m what you might call a selective consumer of news. I like stories that make me feel better about my flaws and foibles, that buttress my skewed and even irresponsible but terribly comfy world view. For example, I skim right over articles that beat the tired old “you should exercise” drum. But I memorize whole paragraphs of stories about people who got hurt or died while exercising, proving once and for all that no good comes from needless sweating, which is just as I suspected.

Starshine Roshell

See how this works?

I eschew news reports about people who’ve failed in life because their parents were divorced or worked outside the home or fed them carbs. Feh, who needs the guilt? I’m always on the lookout for tales that justify my lazy parenting — but the dang things are hard to come by.

Or at least they were until Nicholas Joy whooshed into the spotlight last week. The Massachusetts teen became lost in the Maine wilderness while on a ski trip with his dad and was found by rescuers two days later — cold and hungry but otherwise utterly unscathed. How did the 17-year-old manage to survive two full nights in a blinding snowstorm with strong winds, temperatures in the low teens, and nothing but the clothes he was wearing?

By using skills he learned from watching TV.

A fan of the survival show Man vs. Wild, Joy became separated from his father when he veered off the main ski trail on a late run down Sugarloaf Mountain. Unable to find his way back before nightfall, he put into action the pointers he’d picked up from his favorite reality series. Staying hydrated with water from a nearby stream, he built an igloo out of pine needles, branches, and snow, and hunkered down inside, blanketing himself in leaves.

This is exactly the sort of news I clamor for, not only because it ends in a heartwarming family reunion and speaks to the perseverance and ingenuity of the human spirit, but because it means I’m not necessarily destroying my children when I let them watch television — which, I’m just going to tell you, is often.

Is it possible that while my kids are staring passively at today’s pudding-brain programming (oh, who am I kidding, I saw every episode of Three’s Company six times), they are actually learning important — even life-saving — skills? Is there wisdom behind that flat-screen? Is there … salvation even?

I could argue that watching The Good Wife obsessively has learnt me some wicked-cool courtroom tricks in case I ever, er, veer off the path of the law. And Downton Abbey certainly schooled me in surviving the icy chill of a dinner with English aristocrats.

I asked my kids if they’ve gleaned anything from the boob tube that would help them survive a scary situation. Sure enough, my 2nd grader swears that he can navigate his way through a desert on foot thanks to old episodes of Tintin. “When you’re really thirsty, you sometimes see a big pool of water that’s actually a mirage,” he says. “Unless you’re Captain Haddock, and then you see a big pool of whiskey. But either way, you shouldn’t try to drink it.”

My teenager is certain that he could survive a zombie apocalypse thanks to The Walking Dead and says that watching three seasons of Breaking Bad has ensured he will never be laid to waste by drug dealers. “Selling drugs pays off in the short term,” he explains, “but it’s a bad idea in the long run because people try to kill you.”

You heard ’em. I’m vindicated. And to any other moms out there who collect feel-good headlines to rationalize their laissez-faire parenting, I offer you this: BROTHERS AVOID PITFALLS OF BOOZE AND METH THANKS TO NETFLIX STREAMING.

You’re welcome.

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Amazing enough, I learned to drive by watching, "Speed Racer" as a kid. The POV or Point-of-view gave me courage to see the road as a race track in dealing with other drivers on the Express-way, to slowing into turns and accelerate coming out to avoid overshooting the curve and thus crashing, patience (which I work hard ever day at) in dealing with other drivers bad habits of driving; to driving on icy and slippery roads (turn your wheels into the spin to right your vehicle) as I found saved me during an Ice storm that I chose to drive in to to make better time and when I had hydroplaned on a slightly flooded road in Flagstaff, Az. I didn't learn these things in drivers ed, I learned them watching a cartoon from Japan when I was only Five years old and it just stuck with me.

dou4now (anonymous profile)
March 13, 2013 at 6:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

an interesting take, Starshine, and as a teacher for 40 years I do see how some TV can be positive for children: Discovery Channel, History Channel, Lehrer News hour.... However, another point is the argument that our children are watching SO MUCH TV, and expand that to the fact that most American kids are sitting in front of some sort of screen up to 7 hours a day. For every child who gains something from Man vs. Wild, there are ten whose parents plop them in front of the boob tube, use it as an electronic babysitter, and who gain too much weight since they're mesmerized by the glittering images.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 17, 2013 at 4:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

How about we teach our children to go out in the world and experience life and actually LIVE instead of watching everything on tv? Oh, that's too risky and you read the stories of children being kidnapped so it's better to lock your kids up and only let them play within 10 feet from you? Hmm and we wonder why our children are so disconnected these days....

Muggy (anonymous profile)
April 8, 2013 at 2:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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