Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Losing Our Remote Control

Our whole world changed this morning. Our oldest son learned how to use the remote control. Now, granted, he is only a few months away from being seven years old, so before you accuse him of being of below-average intelligence, allow me to explain. He already knew how to use the remote control, in the sense that he could turn the TV on and change the channel. We actually taught him that at an early age out of a desire to sleep in. Our boys naturally get up much earlier than my wife and I really want to, so it was either teach him how to turn on the Disney channel in the morning by himself, or we would need to go to bed earlier. We chose the TV option.

I know some of you out there are now thinking, “How much TV do these people let their kids watch?” I can assure you it is way less than nine hours per day. We actually tried other forms of pre-parental-consciousness morning activities, such as Legos, sword fighting, and wrestling, but watching TV was the only thing that didn’t consistently end in a loud argument or an even louder head injury.

Up until this morning, Son Number One was able to turn on the TV in our upstairs game room and change the channel to 303 for Disney. At 6:00 in the morning, the Disney channel is a safe bet to be appropriate for all age groups. Up until this morning, this was a satisfactory morning activity for Sons One, Two and Three. Up until this morning, I didn’t have to worry about what they might see on the TV screen.

That has all changed now.

We have a whole host of children’s shows that we record on the DVR (that stands for Digital Video Recorder, for those of you over 50 years old) for the kids to choose from when we parents are awake and able to operate the menu to get them going. Apparently, Son Number One has been paying close attention to us when we navigate the recorded shows menu, because that’s exactly what he did this morning.

Our soon-to-be-seven-year-old powered on the big downstairs TV that has its own remote, changed the TV’s input to the DVR, switched remotes, navigated his way through the main menu to the recorded shows menu, scrolled through the list until he found Tarzan, selected it, scrolled through the list of eight Tarzan episodes that were recorded, found the sequel to the episode they had watched the night before, selected it, found “play” among the list of options, and fast-forwarded through the commercials to the beginning of the show.

My wife silently witnessed the entire event from the kitchen, and after she picked her jaw up off the counter and regained some amount of composure, she came to find me upstairs and tell me that we had a big problem. “Number One can work the TV.”

“I know.”

“No, you don’t understand. He just played Tarzan from the DVR.”

“He did what?!?”

Now, our shock and apprehension about this new skill our son has developed has nothing to do with Tarzan, or any other show we recorded for the boys. Those are fine. Even the commercials on the Disney channel are pretty harmless, although, my boys really want me to buy an ultrasonic noise maker that is supposed to keep pests like deer and raccoons out of our garden. I’m having trouble getting them to come to grips with the fact that we don’t really need that in our suburban backyard. They’re pretty insistent though. I think it’s because on the commercial it shows the imaginary semi-circles of sound emanating from the cheesy-looking green plastic device. I have tried to explain that they will not be able to see - or even hear - the sound in real life, but they’re not convinced I know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, our apprehension about Son Number One’s remote control skills has nothing to do with his shows. It has everything to do with our shows. We record a lot of police and detective dramas, and I don’t have to tell you that today’s shows are over the top. If our kids get curious one morning and end up witnessing an NCIS autopsy scene, or catch some of the dialogue from Law and Order: SVU, I’m not sure even a team of professional child psychologists could reverse that damage.

Now, AT&T U-Verse has already envisioned this problem, and they were kind enough to include Parental Controls software with the DVR. Apparently, we could simply set up a password, and block access to any of the shows we choose, thereby protecting young impressionable minds from adult language, descriptions of violent crimes, and the dissected spleens of unfortunate sailors. Sounds great in theory, but there are a few problems here in reality.

I’m not sure there’s a really delicate way to put this, so I’ll just come out and say it. We’re afraid if we add any more steps, we won’t be able to operate the TV ourselves. We already have three remotes, and at the very least, a nine-step process to actually watch a show. One more level of difficulty might very well put us over the top. And don’t even get me started on the grandparents! It’s like teaching Chinese algebra to a goldfish every time they come over to babysit and need to operate the TV. One more step in that process will not be good.

I guess we could teach Son Number One to help them with the operation of the Parental Controls, but that seems like a flawed system, somehow...

Maybe we should look at this new development not as a challenge, but as an opportunity to change what we watch and record, moving toward a more wholesome Discovery Channel and History Channel-only type environment. Or maybe abandon the idiot box altogether and move to a books-only lifestyle.

Naw… I think I’ll just start hiding the remotes. I’ll put them with his shoes. He can never find those.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. Love it! I agree adding another step, like a parental pin to have to remember, is gonna complicate things!! :) LOL Gail

  2. Complicate, schmomplicate. It's going to make it downright impossible for the adults to watch TV, and even if we could figure it out, it would only take one time for Number One to see it inputted, and it would be worthless!