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Is watching football “family time” with the kids?

Paul Banas
Author Paul Banas
Submitted 13-10-2011

We just did a news piece on a study showing that dads with boys tend to spend more time with their kids than dads who only have girls. That’s a sad bit of news, since girls really need daddy time as well. But I don’t want to get off on that tangent. The second part of the story went on to say that this extra “boy time” was spent watching TV together. So, is watching TV really quality time with the kids, or is it something we do and rationalize that at least they were in the room in while you were enjoying the big game, or worse, the most recent episode of CSI.

I’m of two minds about this because my now 7 year old discovered Pro Football two seasons ago when the Vikings were making a run for the playoffs and as a native Minnesotan, I became a fan again for two or three games. My son went on to become a Saint fan, but that’s another story. That season, last season, and now this season, we’ve watched a lot of football. We’ve made Monday night into pizza night and we’ve shelved a lot of Sunday afternoon activities so we can watch some ball. Anyone who watches football as a group activity knows it’s not a passive endeavor. It’s not like golf. If your heart isn’t pumping and you’re not cheering of someone, you might as well turn it off. My son now knows a lot of the lingo and, while he isn’t yet talking trash, he does some color commentary along the way.

At the same time, my wife started watching “White Collar” with our daughter late last summer. The show, positively rated for tweens, is more passive entertainment as is typical of weekday TV fare. You watch “together,” laugh “together,” but it’s not quite participatory until the debriefs during commercials or after the show. They enjoy it immensely, however.   

You can tell already what my opinion is on the difference between the two types of TV as a family activity.

We don’t watch a lot of TV at home, and during the school year, the rule is no TV or video games during the week, though that rule is broken from time to time when homework is done and piano practice has been accomplished and parents are also looking for a break. It’s in these times, that I’d prefer to break out a board game or even play family Wii together. But is TV a good activity for a family? Is it a bonding event?

My perspective, despite a recent GreatDad news piece on TV as a nurturing tool, is “no.” In a general sense, spending time together doing something is “good.” You do remember peaceful scenes of the family together eating popcorn. However, rare are memories of the night in 1983 when you all watched that one episode of “St. Elsewhere.” TV just isn’t that memorable, except when it’s a news event that brings us all together in a common experience. I watched TV all day on 9/11 and was very glad I had family around to do it with – they are part of my 9/11 memory.

Are there exceptions to this? Yes, of course. I remember watching Marx Brothers movies with my kids, and expect that they will remember them as well. I remember watching “Casablanca” with my daughter because we still quote lines and reference it together. The “classics,” whatever they are, will still be classics and do transcend regular TV watching. Will people care 10 years from now what was on “ER,” or how “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives” took over our lives for brief moments in time. I doubt it.

But back to sports. Is football good time spent with your son? Likely not as good as actually tossing him one in the backyard for an hour, but compared to a lot of other things on TV, it’s perhaps a hair better than most.

What do you think?