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Kelly Wickham is an assistant principal at a magnet school for technology in the Midwest. She authors Mocha Momma Has Something To Say for Babble and maintains a personal blog at Mocha Momma where she writes a lifestyle blog that includes personal stories about being a single mom, stories about race, and tales from her educational adventures. Originally from Chicago, Kelly lives in Springfield, IL with her boyfriend, The Cuban, and two of her four children.

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Trashy TV Makes Trashy Kids

By Kelly Wickham |

I have something to say about reality television and I have kept quiet for a long time on the issue. I’m not sure if it’s because I assumed that it would go away. Probably not because that would just be silly of me. Of course it isn’t going to disappear. But I can’t help but think of the adults in the production business who are letting things like “The Real Housewives” and “The Bad Girls Club” and “My Strange Addiction” get the green light to be fit for television consumption.

As a young mom I would tell my children the old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” and I stuck to that so fervently that for a period of a few years I had the cable television disabled from our home and we only watched what was on the regular channels that we could get or the movies that I would have to approve being let into my home. It was a decision that, inadvertently, got me to introduce my children to the classics because our local video store had them in the ‘free’ section. During 1999 and 2000 my kids watched just about every black and white film ever made. They whined at first about the movies (Didn’t they have color back then, mom?) but as we got more and more familiar with them they came to see the quality of the storytelling and the lessons to be learned from that genre.

Now, you have to remember that I work with teenagers in schools. As a classroom teacher I always wanted my students to see whatever film version came with a book and I stuck to that rigidly. My sophomores read Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and watched the movie with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. When I taught 8th grade and we read “Diary of a Young Girl” we enjoyed the movie about Anne Frank. In my home and in my classroom I felt like I was introducing young people to something really important. Movies that took their time with plot development and acting that wasn’t so much entrenched in who the actor was as it was about the character they took on to portray.

Good MomI don’t say this to win anyone over or receive accolades. But I did something right after many people expected far less from me. It was done with a lot of resilience and hard work, too. In fact, I get miffed (okay, really, my vocabulary is like an octogenarian sometimes) when people tell me I am “lucky” to have good kids. It’s not luck. I put some effort and consideration into my children.

That’s why I get so upset when reality television is, seemingly, the only option for young people. Hell, I get mad when my adult friends discuss those shows like they are ancient Romans watching Christians be fed to the lions. It’s just so irresponsible and I can’t reconcile that human beings in accountable positions see this as the entertainment it’s purporting to be.

It’s just so…lazy. It requires nothing but moments of being aghast at the fighting and drinking and casual sex but also accepting that this is just ‘the way it is’.

Maybe I am old. Maybe my soul was 40 years old before my body ever caught up to that age. But really, I have to believe we can do better and stop engaging in the delight that comes when we gather around the watercooler (No, really. I am my grandmother for crying out loud!) or write trashy recaps of the reality shows on entertainment blogs.

People. Friends. We can do better, can’t we?

Most of the time I laugh off or ignore the things my adult friends view as entertainment for how they spend their time. And boy, do I realize how judgmental that sounds. Anyone could call me on some things that I do that are less than stellar in the realm of being an adult. But that’s the real sucky part of being an adult. It’s that Must Be Responsible thing that no one really talks about anymore. Here’s the thing: I work with kids every day. Our Kids. Our Future. Those kids come to school after watching trashy television with their parents (and sometimes because that’s what they’re choosing and no one is guiding them to better things) and they want to talk about it. What they do at school with me is they want to make sense of their world and the conflicting views they get are forcing many of them to take the lazy option of seeing that as, well, an option. They are wading through the crap of general life and seeing Teen Mom as a viable choice in the their lives. Students are filled with this angst of seeing role models in celebrities.

I am not suggesting that parents aren’t doing their jobs right. But I am saying that if my experience is teaching me anything it’s that maybe we’re not doing them a service by teaching critical thinking when we both let them watch these shows and when we are caught viewing them. My job is tough enough when I am forced to act in loco parentis, but the truth is that I don’t want to be in that role.

Hey World! Turn off the Jersey Shore, would you? I feel old enough already.

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About Kelly Wickham

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Kelly Wickham

Kelly Wickham is an assistant principal at a magnet school for technology in the Midwest. She authors Mocha Momma Has Something To Say for Babble and maintains a personal blog, Mocha Momma, that includes personal stories about being a single mom, stories about race, and tales from her educational adventures. Read bio and latest posts → Read Kelly's latest posts →

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6 thoughts on “Trashy TV Makes Trashy Kids

  1. The Dalai Mama says:

    I agree with you on so many levels. I also have to admit–there are one or two reality shows that I watch–late at night with a glass of wine. But I totally get what you are saying–how did this become entertainment? How did it become something we value?

  2. Rachel says:

    The only “reality” show I watch is Hell’s Kitchen. And I don’t consider that reality since they need a skill to get on the show.

    That being said, the first few seasons of Real World were pretty good, before it became the let’s drink and fall down and have sex show.

  3. Cate O'Malley says:

    As old-fashioned as it may sound, I love me some Little House on the Prairie and Happy Days, harkening back to times when your word was solid, your front door unlocked and good old-fashioned values were, well, valuable. Jersey Shore does us no favors (especially living in Jersey!), and I have no problem admitting that I sit down with my kids to watch Little House on the Prairie, where please and thank you, ma’am and hard work were as commonplace as the sun shining. That and it totally makes kids appreciate just how luxurious life is these days.

  4. I have got to believe that more people believe this, too, and that they value shows that have VALUE.

    But I totally agree with Hell’s Kitchen requiring some skill. Chef Ramsay scares the crap out of me but I agree with his work ethic and thus forgive his overuse of the F word. It’s nice when he shows a tender side, too. But still, it’s not a show aimed at kids so I forgive it for the minor dramas it creates.

  5. Jean K says:

    I SOOOOOOO agree, Kelly. I watched some Project Runway, and Amazing Race for a few seasons, then gave them up. Other than that, I’ve never watched a whole episode of any of these things. I’ve never even looked at any of the housewives, or toddlers with tiaras, or whatever.. or Jersey Shore.(Which our friends from NJ would like to send somewhere else!!) I hate that it’s become so popular, and has permeated the culture so far. Even I know who some of these people are, and what they’re “famous” for!! Entertainment has ceased to be fun, for me, and is not reflecting the values we need to be passing on to our next generations..*sigh* Sometimes I wish I had been born in the thirties!! I sure don’t like these times “entertainment” choices.

  6. Kelly H says:

    I’m with you on this. Our 7-year-old is now hooked on old black and white shows where the characters value things like integrity and reputation. Our 21-year-old refuses to watch most current TV and is called ‘old-fashioned’ at times because of it; however, she takes that with pride. “I know what I like and what I want to spend my time on, and I’m not going to change my mind to fit in.” Something worked!

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