The Family Hour

                               SOPHIA - 12


 Synopsis:   G-Ma Lori and the little ones experience the filming of a TV show firsthand.  G-Ma discovers, to her dismay, she has put her dear ones in a frightening situation. An armed gunman appears and frightens Sarah to tears.   G-Ma realizes she slipped on her Vigilance duties to protect her grandchildren from harm--both physical and emotional.   She learns a lesson about not taking  lightly Television shows during what used to be called 'Family Hour'.

                            G-MA LORI'S FAMILY HOUR
             Becoming A GateKeeper Of Vigilance

      “G-Ma, G-Ma, we saw those people this morning when mommy was taking us to school.  That’s Mommy’s favorite TV show ‘Law and Order’.”

       Matt, my five-year-old grandson was enlightening me with the knowledge of the day.  His crystal clear blue eyes sizzled, crackling with news.  They gleamed with the excitement of sharing important information with another – with me--his incredibly blessed grandmother.

      “Wow, Matt and Sarah (Matt’s three-year-old sister), this is exciting.  A TV program, your Mommy’s favorite and also one of G-Ma’s and G-Pa’s favorites is being filmed right in front of your apartment.  Let’s try to find a place to stand out of the way so we can see what is happening.”

      My two little ducklings and I scurried across the street and carefully made our way past the cast of film-makers, cameramen, cables, the technical support crew and the crème de crème--the actors themselves.  We exited the maze only five or six feet from the children’s apartment. There were two men a few feet back from where we stood.  I assumed since they didn’t say anything to us about moving farther down the street, that we were “out of camera sight.” I also assumed they were the guards keeping the public out of the way.

     “G-Ma, what are we looking for,” questioned my little love bug, Sarah.  She was tired and anxious to get home to  play with her brother.

      The filming of a TV show was thrilling to me, especially a classy one like Law and Order.  Matt and Sarah were accustomed to the flurries of production people and equipment blocking their way to their cozy apartment.  They live in the East Village where many of the TV shows are  filmed.  I was the ‘new kid on the block’ and so I made them wait while I gawked and hoped to catch a glimpse of some my favorite stars.

      “G-Ma, I see cars in the middle of the street, right in the middle so other cars can’t move.”

       Matt was getting into the "gawking" excitement. “I see the cameras, G-Ma.  They are bigger than G-Pa’s new one.”  Matt referred to my husband’s Kodak 3400 digital camera he constantly shoved into the faces of the grandkids to get that “perfect picture.”

      Suddenly, I heard the director announce to crew and onlookers the cameras would be rolling for the next scene.  I gripped Matt’s and Sarah’s hands.  This was thrilling.  Camera!  Lights! Action!   I heard one of the men in front of me say, “there might be some people running close by you.  You’ll probably be in the shot.”  I wondered afterwards why he didn’t say “move those kids out of the way, lady – we’re shooting a scene too scary for them to witness. And I didn't question the use of the word 'shot'." 

      “Action,” yelled the director.  The two "guards" quickly moved in front of us – only two feet away. Before I could react, one placed his hand behind his back, and in full view of me a five-year old and a three-year-old pulled a real gun out of his back waistband.  He began to charge up the street chasing the other "guard."  His gun was drawn and pointing at the "bad guy." Cars in the intersection shrieked and collided, turning fantasy into reality. 

      I took a deep breath and stiffened.  My grip increased on my two little angels.  Then I heard the plaintive mewls as sweet Sarah’s sad cries pierced my heart.

 "I don't want the man to shoot Adam, G-Ma, I wa-wa-want to go inside, now!” Tears flooded her chocolate brown eyes.  I felt myself drowning in them.  How could this have happened while my precious charges were in my care?  I, a Grandmother of Vigilance, put my angels in a frightening situation! I scooped up my sweetly sobbing love bug, and with Matt in tow murmured  “it’s okay, little ones, it will be all right, don’t be afraid.  Sweet Sarah,  no one is going to shoot Matt.".

         Upon entering the apartment I hugged the two of them.  I tentatively looked at Matt for his response, unsure what it would be. He was whispering something to Sarah.

         I had been selfish,  thinking of how I would enjoy seeing such a fine show being filmed.  And, being right up front.  I also assumed since their mother had traipsed through all the paraphernalia and people that very morning, this afternoon would be no different for her children – my grandchildren. But, I was complacent.  Fear flung open her vile wings and shrouded my sweet innocents (at least one of them) with her terror. No matter what the reason, I was responsible.

         Matt remained silent for only for a few minutes, then he charged over to his collection of dinosaurs.

      “G-Ma, what dinosaur do you want to be. I’m going to be the Allosaurus or maybe the T. Rex.  He skipped over to Sarah and handed her her favorite Brontosaurus.

      “I want to be a UNICORN, Matt.  Not a dinosaur.”  Her Voice was uncharacteristically belligerent even though her tears had stopped.  I wondered what to say to Matt.  I felt I owed it to my ‘little man’ to try to explain the disconcerting situation in which I had placed all of us.

      “Matt, so what did you think about the TV show filming right outside of your apartment?”  He didn’t even raise his blonde head as he answered.  He just slammed his T. Rex into the rest of the dinosaurs.  “Well, G-Ma, I know the name of the show is ‘LAW and Order’ so if the LAW is part of the show, then there will be guns, bad guys and police. Right?”  He looked my way and smiled. “That wasn’t a real gun, you know, G-Ma.”

      “Oh, my little man.  You are old enough and smart enough to realize what was happening out there. But Sarah was scared when the man pulled out his gun, real or not, right in front of us.  G-Ma is so sorry she made Sarah afraid.”

      “That’s okay, G-Ma.  I told Sarah it was all pretend when we got inside.  She thought the man said he was going to shoot me.”  He gave me a quick hug to comfort me.  And, in his wise little man way, hugged Sarah as well. Again I was furious at myself at my lack of vigilance.

      “Let’s play, G-Ma.  Come on Sarah, you can be a unicorn.”  Sarah slid off the couch and picked up the Brontosaurus.  “I’ll be a dinosaur like you Matt.” She flashed her wide toothy apple-grin his way.  “Rooooaarrrrrrr,” she yelled.  Fear had been replaced with action; my guilt mitigated by Matt’s comforting words.

      I thought about television violence. When I went home that evening, I surfed the web for information, using Google, my favorite way to get instant feedback on questions and concerns.  The results startled me.
       I found that children are exposed to violence on a daily basis in New York City and most other big cities in degrees I hadn't imagined. I had been lax and allowed my angels to witness first hand a simulated violent scene.  This was a violation of their parents' anti-violence principles.

         Matt and Sarah's parents are vigilant in most every way about protecting the kids from human aggressions in any form.  Television news is never turned on with the exception of Channel One for the weather forecast.  Most of the PBS cartoons are ‘allowed’ as well as a few from the Nicklelodian including cartoons such as Little Bear, Blue’s Clues, Dragon Tales. Also acceptable are pre-checked out programs from Discovery Channel and National Geographic dealing with animals and/or nature.

      Hitting and fighting, guns and swords are ‘verboten’.  Treating everyone--no matter what color or race or station in life--with respect is a prime directive in this loving household.  Matt plays aggressively at the park, with his dinosaurs, and with his sister. He knows when he oversteps his bounds. The few times I’ve witnessed his aggressions toward others, they have been to protect his little sister.  When some other child tries to take Sarah's toys, or won't let her play or participate, he goes face-to-face with whomever, regardless of size. 
        Sarah is still learning to manage her anger and occasionally whacks Matt or takes a kick at the household cat, Xela, who has never had anything to do with the children..  For her to see the ‘aggressive action’ today wasn’t an experience necessary for her evolution as a "peaceful person".  I dropped the Shield of Vigilance.  Complacency swiftly filled the vacuum.

      If this lapse of care happened to me who lives and writes daily about vigilance and protecting children, I can only imagine how easy it could be for parents, grandparents and other adults caring for precious children to lower their shields, or, in some cases, not be aware of the Terrorism of aggression.  Some just accept it as a way of life   They buy their children guns and tanks and endorse violence.  Some do it openly, others allow the defacto effects to seep into a child's mental and emotional framework.   Television is one of the more insidious sources.

       Television shows today (other than those mentioned above) have gone from bad to worse. Traditionally, the 8 o’clock hour has been called TV’s “family hour.”  But in a Parents Television Council (PTC) report on the 2000-2001season,  researchers reported the content of network programs dealt with subject matter inappropriate for children in the "family hour."  Its data revealed the mass of objectionable material has risen 24 percent since the group’s last family hour study conducted after the1998-1999 season.

      The PTC analysts viewed almost 200 hours of programming. They examined the broadcasts for violent (and sexual) material and foul language.  Findings show that family hour programming has become even less family-friendly.  Sexual material has fallen 17 percent to an average of 3.1 instances per hour, but they said it " is raunchier than in the previous years."  Sexual content in the 2000-2001 season dealt with issues such as pornography and oral sex which the PTC says used to be rare material.

      Coarse language was up 78 percent to 2.6 instances per hour.  Incidents of violence increased 70 percent to 2.8 an hour.  Fifteen percent of violent incidents involved a gun and 51 percent some other weapon.

     The PTC determined that only 12 percent of last season’s family hour programs were appropriate for children.  That means 88% of the shows during family hour aren't family shows at all, but rather "terrorism" shows that create confusion and questions in children's minds.  
     Parents allowed their children to view these shows in large numbers. Rating figures indicated that an average of more than 10 million children were watching during "family hour."  UPN was the worst offender with more than 18 offensive incidents per hour – almost twice as many as the 9.12 incidents of second-place offender, NBC.  CBS earned the best rating with an average of just 3.22 offensive incidents per hour.

           L. Brent Bozell III, founder and president of the Parents Television Council says “These findings demonstrate beyond any shadow of a doubt that broadcast television’s family hour is more violent and vulgar than at any time in history.”

      I thought about the information I read.  I realized it won’t be long before Matt will be assigned TV watching as part of a school assignment.  He told me there is a TV in his classroom – the one on which he saw the terrorists attack the Twin Towers.  Vigilance means protecting a child from certain information.  I'm not promoting censorship, but rather interpretation and conversation.   Sitting with a child and discussing the news from their viewpoint is vital to avoid misinterpretation, confusion, fear.

      Under the age six, kids have a limited ability to discern the fantasy of an entertainment show from the reality of news.  Kids in this age range are as likely to be afraid of what they see on the news as they are of dragons, or shadows in the night.  I know in Matt’s case (and Sarah’s when she reaches five or six) his parents (or grandparents) will watch the news with him and an open dialogue will be a priority to talk about his worries or misunderstandings.  Vigilance is about helping a child sort and sift through information, and culling out that which might harm the child unnecessarily.

      Stories of crime and violence dominate news coverage.  A child viewing the news might assume the world is full of terror when it is not.  Stories of outbreaks of schoolyard violence, war and crime scene footage can alienate children, leaving them to question their personal and their families’ safety.  Parental discussion can quash many fears that might rattle in a child's mind, or secretly be buried in a quagmire deep where the shadows of fear are stuffed without anyone knowing it exists, creating a future time-bomb that might appear as an obstacle to a healthy, happy outlook later on in life.   

      News stories of crime and violence stimulate excellent opportunities to initiate a conversation on the real life consequence of guns and violence.  Unlike the movies or the TV show we witnessed being filmed, victims from real life violence don’t get up after the cameras stop rolling.  Kids look to parents (and grandparents and other child tenders) to help them figure out the difference between right and wrong. 

      Even kindergartners have access to computer learning. There are good news sources for kids to learn to balance the terrorism of violence, sex and bad language creeping more prevalently into the living rooms of America's 100 million households.  Some links are listed below for readers to review.  They include: For TV News:  Nick News:         

          For online news for kids:  The New York Times Learning Network:

           Scholastic News Zone:

            MSNBC Pencil News for Kids:

        There are also News Magazines for Kids:


            Time Magazine for Kids:
           (Note:  Click On Any Of The Above Links To Access The Web Pages)

       In summarizing my experience with Law & Order, it made me realize that my grandchildren, and the children of others, are going to get a lot of the news and facts from someone else.   Either at school, or from the playground, or just hearing people talk, or, eavesdropping on the nightly news while pretending to play.  I restated my vows to be a Vigilant Gatekeeper, and help  them interpret the news.
.    Now, when I pick up Sarah and/or Matt, I casually ask if they have heard anything interesting they want to talk about or ask questions about.    If there’s something big happening in the world, Matt will usually ask a question.

        Being vigilant today means I can expect not to shield the children from news—that’s impossible—but I can be a Gatekeeper of Vigilance.    Vigilance isn’t about censorship; it’s about guardianship.    As the news picks and chooses what it wishes to headline, the listener also has the right to edit what he or she is being fed.   There is no gospel.  There is only perspective--how one looks at things.   If anti-violence is at least one-percent more important as a solution to life's challenges, then my job as a Gatekeeper of Vigilance has been performed.   But if violence becomes the solution, without consideration of other alternatives, then I've failed.   Children who learn that rule end up being abusive to themselves and others, and tear at the fabric of human evolution unnecessarily.

        As long as I struggle to remember the importance of balance, I’m on the right track.  I’m vigilant.  I’m also know if I do get off track for any reason, even if it involves my little ones, I can get back on track.  I can correct myself.  I can teach my grandchildren opinions and viewpoints can shift and change.  That nothing is so rooted that it cannot be uprooted--that fear can be replaced with courage, and intimidation by conviction, and complacency by action.
         Vigilance training, I learned, starts early, as evidenced in Matt’s handling of the TV show filming.  When he told his sister it was a "pretend gun," and that it was only "pretend" he signaled his assimilation of reality.  He proved he had learned from a non-violent household to distinguish the difference between the reality of violence, and its masks. His was a healthy attitude.  He also taught me I can learn from a vigilant five-year old and be a better Grandparent of Vigilance.
          He reminded me the "family hour" begins with the parents being with their children to watch and become Gatekeepers of Vigilance.


Go To Sophia 13: "The Terrorless Valentine's Day"

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