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I Put the ‘Reality’ in Reality TV For My Teenage Sons

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Reality TV has taken over my house. I will personally cop to a couple of Housewives series, “Restaurant Impossible,” and the occasional Kardashian. My teenage sons love “The Bachelor” and “Total Divas,” and I can see why they find these shows both amusing and entertaining. It’s fun to peek into the lives of other people and see how they live (see Housewives reference above); however, I sometimes worry about the underlying messages that some shows impart to my kids.

The programs may be “reality” driven, but it’s not the same reality in my world–or my kids’ world. While I, as an adult, can differentiate between genuine adult relationships and those carefully shaped by producers and directors, it’s not such an easy task for adolescent boys.

We often watch as a family and root for favorite “characters” to win or advance in “The Bachelor’s” Rose Ceremonies. We laugh at the outrageous behavior and unlikely predicaments that always ensue. It’s all good fun in the moment. But I can’t help but wonder if the kids are internalizing what they see on some level. Are my kids getting a warped sense of relationships, dating, and how to treat people?

Although my husband and I try to model the values that are important to us, sometimes it’s hard to compete with popular culture. I don’t see the point in forbidding these shows. The kids have Internet access and I have learned from experience that shielding them from information backfires when they speak to their friends who have not been shielded. My compromise is that while I allow them to watch these shows with me, I occasionally act as the scrooge who interjects a reality check into their reality TV viewing. I have compiled a list of ten essential items that I’ve shared with my kids to help explain how dating works and what they can expect:

1. They will likely never encounter any situation where 30 scantily clad women concurrently compete for their affections.

2. Not all women are catty and devalue others to boost themselves. When they meet people who who make themselves feel good through hurting others (both male and female), keep walking.

3. Real life dating does not look like what they’ve seen on these TV shows. Their first dates will not be trips to Paris, hot air balloon rides, or Caribbean yachting. There are no corporate sponsors, so they’ll have to impress people with who they are – not what they can financially provide.

4. Relationships and people are not disposable, and breaking up is really hard; they won’t get over the heartache by the next episode. Engagement and marriage are a big deal in real life, and if they go into a marriage relying on divorce as a back-up plan, then they have not met the right mate.

5. If they’re dating a woman who has children, don’t meet the kids until they’ve been around for a while–and intend to stay around.

6. Long-distance relationships are rough fare. So is relocating your own life to accommodate someone else’s.

7. No one needs to know about your sex life. But always practice safe sex.

8. Women generally don’t sleep with hair and makeup perfectly intact.

9. Many women have cellulite and other perceived body flaws. So do men.

10. Look for educated, secure, confident, and accomplished women. (Mom will probably like them.)

I try to keep in mind that I am raising future husbands, and their expectations need to be realistic in order for them to forge lasting partnerships with the right mates. While real life has no rose ceremonies, there are victories far more worthwhile.

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