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'Family friendly' shows on kids' channels could do better to model happy families

This image provided by the Disney Channel shows Miley Cyrus performing with Billy Ray Cyrus, left, during taping Friday March 12, 2010 of the Disney Channel's series, "Hannah Montana" celebrating military families before an audience of families of service
This image provided by the Disney Channel shows Miley Cyrus performing with Billy Ray Cyrus, left, during taping Friday March 12, 2010 of the Disney Channel's series, "Hannah Montana" celebrating military families before an audience of families of service members in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.
AP Photo/Disney Channel, Eric McCandless

When people think about finding “family friendly” entertainment, it usually entails paying attention to offensive content like bad language, sexual situations or violence. But what about situations or characters that promote nonideal family behaviors?

The Disney Channel, for instance, is often thought of as “family friendly.” Shows are aimed at young children and teens, and there is no bad language or sexual content. With teen characters, kissing doesn’t happen very frequently and it is usually a brief encounter.

But do the shows themselves promote happy families?

Honestly, I don’t think so. My younger daughters (ages 3, 8 and 12) watch the Disney Channel, and I have watched with them at times. I felt immediately that I did not like the portrayal of adults on the shows, such as “Hannah Montana,” “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “Good Luck Charlie.”

On the latter two shows, there are two parents in the home, and in the first, there is a father, the mother having died years before. At least there is an intact family. However, the parents are portrayed as goofballs. They tend to let their kids take over, even if they attempt to take the lead of the family, and they often are present just as jokes. The children of the families don’t take their parents seriously and usually flout whatever feeble attempts their parents make to be in charge.

One episode of “Good Luck Charlie” particularly bothered me when it came to the relationship between the mother and her teen daughter. The daughter wanted to attend a midnight showing of a popular movie, but she told her friend there was no way her mom would let her go. Her friend said, “Oh, my mom wouldn’t usually let me go either, but I know how to get her to do it.” The friend told the character that she should “butter up” her mom, spending the day with her and making her feel that they were close.

So the mother and daughter spent the day shopping, hanging out and talking. Toward the end of the day, the mom said, “Oh, this has been so fun. I have enjoyed hanging out with you.” The daughter smiled and agreed. Then, she asked if she could go to the midnight movie, and the mother immediately said yes.

Soon afterward, the daughter and her friend were talking in her room. The daughter told her friend, “It worked great. It was so annoying to pretend all day that I was having fun, but mom told me I could go to the movie with you.”

The mother overheard, and rather than discuss the situation with her daughter, she made a plan to embarrass her instead. She called her daughter’s friend’s mother, and the two arranged to show up at the movie that night and make a spectacle of themselves — singing and dancing.

The daughter was suitably shamed, and the mother felt successful.

As a mother, I was mortified by this episode. It sent a number of messages to children that go against anything that is good for family unity and happiness, as well as what I try to do in my own home. I have a teenage daughter with whom I genuinely enjoy spending time, and she honestly tells me she enjoys my company. We have spent many hours in the evenings talking about her day and what’s going on in her life and heart. I cherish these times, as does she.

For a show to tell teenagers that it’s disagreeable to spend time with their mothers does not help them feel secure, happy and loved in their homes. And for the show to say it’s OK for a mother to embarrass her daughter for revenge is another message that contradicts happy families. It bothered me to no end that a mother would want to embarrass her daughter. I would never want to do that to my beloved children.

I work at being a leader in my home, a parent on whom my children can depend for security and sound guidance, someone they know is there for them and has their best interests at heart. My husband and I are naturally fun-loving and try to promote a spirit of fun and enjoyment in our home. But we are the parents, and our children know that we’re in charge. This is not a type of parent I see on these shows. They’re often bumbling idiots who look as immature as their teens.

Teens may often view their parents as people who don’t know what’s really going on, and that the teen knows best. But this doesn’t reflect reality for most good parents. For the television shows to reflect the teen view of parents is irresponsible and caters to the child rather than reflect a well-rounded view of reality.

I believe it is possible to have a show that portrays strong, fun parents who lead with wisdom and thoughtfulness and is still fun for young people to watch. “The Cosby Show,” for instance, had strong parents who led the way and taught their children. The show was still funny and enjoyable for all ages. It wasn’t necessary for the parents to be two-dimensional punch lines.

Yes, it is admirable that the Disney Channel and other shows aimed at young people (such as “iCarly” on Nickelodeon) don’t have bad language or sexual content. But to be truly “family friendly,” these shows should focus on creating real, three-dimensional characters who model how a happy family lives. Then, I could really applaud them.

No family is perfect, but an honest portrayal of families who are working together in unity and love would be wonderful. Until then, I will discuss my reservations about these shows with my children and remind them that they don’t reflect reality, at least not the reality to which our family aspires.

Cathy Carmode Lim is the founder of