Today’s television shows rush youth to grow up

March 10, 2014
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I recall a time when television did not rush children to grow up.

The Winslows. The Banks. The Tanners. The Huxtables.

There was the college life of “A Different World” that allowed many black kids to dream of going to college.

ABC coined Friday night as TGIF — prime time, family-centered programming for the whole family. Each episode came with its own twists, turns and neatly packed lessons within 20 minutes.

Those two hours of 20 minutes were exciting to me.

They were the reward for the end of a school week and chores, of staying up as late as we wanted, but rarely lasting past 10 because we were tired.

It came with an occasional movie night when we watched “Mask” starring Cher, “The Boy Who Could Fly,” “Karate Kid” or my favorite, “The Monster Squad.”

There was “Stand by Me,” “Lean on me,” “The Goonies,” “The Gremlins,” “Teen Wolf” and “Back to the Future.”

I treasured the smell of stove-topped, buttery popcorn with my siblings and parents on those evenings. It’s probably why popcorn is my favorite snack. Maybe deep down I long to freeze frame those moments of tranquility.

I knew that life was not a neat sitcom complete with commercial breaks that paid my bills, but I was never in a rush to grow up.

And even though I knew the peace I found in moments of my childhood were rare among my peers, the television of TGIF refused to allow me to deal with some of the issues kids rarely get a break from.

Children these days are so desensitized to trauma and violence, living in a semi-crisis state is normal and turning on the television simply standardizes perpetual cycles of unhealthy human relationships.

“Top Gun” was as raunchy as it got on movie night.

One Saturday morning I found “Teen Summit” on BET — a life changer for me.

This show tackled topics of bullying, AIDS and STD’s, fatherlessness, teen pregnancy, voting, education, etc. And it all came from a youth’s perspective.

They had a toll-free call-in number, a panel that would address questions and scenarios posed by the audience and callers from around the country.

Just a little later, I found “The Awakening” — not the Donte Fain version but the original show from inner-city minister Dr. Clifford E. Turner.

The show captured the real world, real-time issues of that generation without glamorizing the negative, and the religious overtone was not cheesy. The show won an Emmy Award in 1991 and became the longest running Christian mini series at the time.

I don’t want the old shows back.

I want the basic themes of humanity, spirituality, community and resiliency to reign over the ratchetness of loving hip-hop reality shows.

Is it too much to ask that an evening be dedicated to family themes and fun?

If local networks wish to be more competitive with cable shows, why not go back to the root of humanity, of building memories, of rituals that centers around family bonding?

Why not reverse the curse of the violent trajectory of this generation?

I remember the excitement I felt looking forward to our family nights.

It didn’t matter which of us kids were bad that week. Family time didn’t have strings attached. It was a given.

And maybe it was a way to have fun in the absence of money, but the feeling I get over 20 years later cannot be bought with money.

I remember it like it was just last night.

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