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How The Brady Bunch Destroyed Parenting For a Generation

The Brady Bunch is one of those iconic TV shows that people just love to make fun of. You know, the period clothing, the dated language (like, this and that are “groovy”), and the backyard neatly floored in artificial turf.

Harmless entertainment? Maybe not.

Millions of people believe that society has become more violent as a result of more violent TV programs. Could it be that TV is also the source poor parenting? I think that’s undeniable.

So let’s spend some time on the not so harmless side of The Brady Bunch.

How The Brady Bunch Destroyed Parenting For a Generation

How The Brady Bunch Destroyed Parenting For a Generation

A high school friend of mine once confided that The Brady Bunch made him feel inferior growing up. Compared to the Brady‘s, his own family was hopelessly dysfunctional. He always hoped for an episode where the oldest sister, Marcia, would get pregnant – by her stepbrother Greg! He thought that would be a big enough scandal to level the playing field between his family and the famous and perfect Brady’s. And for what it’s worth, this guy came from an upper middle class family, not unlike the TV Brady’s.

That perfection thing – as much as we all know it to be utterly bogus – nevertheless camps out in the American psyche.

As hokie as it sounds, I think that The Brady Bunch had a subtle but very damaging impact on family life in America. There was a succession of perfect TV families during the 1950s and 1960s – including My Three Sons, Leave it to Beaver, and Ozzie and Harriet. The Brady Bunch came at the tail end of that era, running from 1969 to 1974. In fact, it came so late that it seemed to be a retro version of the earlier shows, and doomed to early cancellation.

But that’s not quite what happened.

Why The Brady Bunch had more staying power

Maybe it was because the entire series was filmed in color, or the fact that it was the last of the genre, but The Brady Bunch seemed to be the most enduring of the perfect family shows. It has aired in syndication continuously since its prime time cancellation, and has doubtlessly been seen by virtually every child who has grown up since. And somewhere along the way, it came to define a normal family, if only subliminally.

And that’s the problem.

It’s often said that art imitates life. I think TV is an exception. I think that when people see the same images and messages repeated again and again, then life begins to imitate art. We take our cues from TV as to how we dress, activities we participate in, music preferences, diet, body language and appearance, and relationships.

That includes family relationships and how we raise our children.

It’s not such a stretch then to suggest that a popular TV program, such as The Brady Bunch, might have had a significant impact on how people have raised their children since. Millions of people have grown up watching The Brady Bunch, and many have seen it either as the perfect version of normal, or as the way they wished that they were raised in their own childhood. Would it influence the way they might one day raise their own children?

I think so.

If you grow up thinking that your own childhood was somehow dysfunctional or abnormal – and who doesn’t – you might pattern your own child rearing after another family that seemed to be so successful. For many people, that family was The Brady Bunch. This is even more likely since the 1970s saw the beginning of the divorce culture and the broken family that have only grown in scope since.

Think about the problems that exist in families and with children today, and think about The Brady Bunch. I think there’s a connection.

Overestimating your kids

If you spend much time around parents today, you’ll often hear comments such as:

  • My child is very advanced.
  • My child has above average intelligence/is a genius.
  • My child is very responsible.
  • My child is a natural athlete.
  • My child never gives me any trouble.
  • My child would never do that (name your violation).

Sometimes the parent is describing a child who is only five years old or even younger. How you could come to that conclusion that early in life is problematic.

Is TV an influence here? On The Brady Bunch each of the brood of six kids were virtually incapable of ever getting into any kind of trouble that was more serious than mischief. All were good students, socially well adjusted, and always polite and pleasant even under pressure. In the real world, kids aren’t perfect, and even good kids are prone to bouts of misbehavior, sometimes even the serious variety.

Some parents have that TV view of their kids – innocent, self-reliant, advanced, and utterly capable – as if they‘re self-directed miniature adults, rather than children in need of direction. Maybe they treat their kids this way, wishing that was how their own parents would have treated them when they were growing up.

Is it possible that subliminal TV indoctrination may be causing many people to be less effective parents? It’s worth considering.

Child discipline – Brady style – and the lack of discipline today

Six kids, and discipline of any sort seemed to be close to non-existent, if it was ever even necessary.

Check out this episode, it’s about ten minutes long, but you can fast-forward it to get the highlights.

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In this episode, Greg is serving a grounding sentence from an unknown infraction, that restricts him from driving the family car. Sensing the wiggle room in the punishment, he uses a friend’s car to drive to buy concert tickets. Father Mike calmly remarks “I can’t believe he deliberately disobeyed us” – how many times do we see this kind of under-reaction from parents today? He then re-grounds him for ten days – this time prohibiting him from leaving the house at all.

Greg is upset about the second grounding and challenges his parents on the technical grounds that the first grounding was ambiguous. By driving his friend’s car didn’t violate the original grounding, which he understood to mean that he merely was restricted from driving the family car.

So what do Mike and Carol do? They accept Greg’s argument, and lift the second grounding. And not only is the second grounding dismissed, but it enables Greg to go to the very concert that he used his friend’s car to buy the tickets for. Translation: no punishment. This is a classic case of elevating children to equal status with adults. How often do we see parents doing that today?

Now I don’t know what it was like when you were growing up, but I’m having trouble imagining using that kind of logic on my own parents, and even more difficulty wrapping my mind around the idea of them buying it. But then there was no Brady Bunch when they grew up. I think there’s definitely a connection there.

This Brady episode is an example of the soft, psycho-discipline that TV and especially the Brady parents were notorious for. It’s TV discipline, which is to say that it’s no discipline at all. Or how about, Marcia, we’re very disappointed in you. Really? I think most kids would properly view this kind of parental reaction as a “get out of jail free card”.

Yet if we look at kids today, we see evidence of a pronounced lack of discipline. I submit that a generation of people who were raised on The Brady Bunch might come to see some legitimacy in the weak response from the parents, as though it‘s somehow the enlightened course of action.

I also submit that it’s that kind lack of discipline that has led to an explosion in the number of incarcerations. Some 65 million people in the US have criminal records; is it too far-fetched to connect the dots between a lack of discipline in the home, and the need for the criminal justice system to do in adult life what the parents wouldn’t do in childhood?

Real life isn’t The Brady Bunch, and it’s beyond silly to think that that kind of non-discipline has any use at all. Sadly, it seems to have become the new normal in American households today.

No apparent responsibilities – other than education

Except where necessary to the story line, the Brady kids had no apparent ongoing household chores. They had a maid. Even when they reached teenage, we saw little evidence of any of them holding a paying job that lasted more than one episode.

Have you noticed the rise in the number of kids today who similarly have no household chores, and no job outside the home? It seems to be another example of a new normal in childrearing. It was the standard on The Brady Bunch, even if it wasn’t true society wide when the show was in primetime.

There’s a popular mindset in today’s parents that if you focus a child on education, everything else will fall into place. That was Brady Bunch 101! Is it ridiculous to make a connection? Did you ever notice how the Brady kids never needed to be motivated by their parents to study and to do well in school? It just seemed to come naturally.

In the conformity that seems to dominate our time, this is how many parents are raising their kids today.

Education is all that matters

Is that a bad thing? I would say YES. There’s a lot more to growing into a well adjusted adult than simply getting a good education, but I think that point is lost on a lot of parents.

Many kids graduate college never having worked a job in their lives. Do you think that has an impact on the recent phenomenon of un- and under-employment among recent college graduates?

Many young people eat out most nights because they don’t know how to cook. Some don’t know how to do laundry, clean house, pay bills or even how to change a flat tire.

Where do those deficiencies come from? Maybe from parents who believed that getting a good education was all that mattered. Where did they learn it? Maybe spending too much time watching The Brady Bunch has something do to with it. Even if you never watched the show yourself, many people did, and that affected societal views of parenting.

I may be guilty of over-simplifying or even exaggerating the effect that The Brady Bunch has had on the culture, and particularly on parenting. But if we “are what we eat”, then it’s equally true that we are what we consume on TV. If you started watching shows like The Brady Bunch early in life, it’s impossible to dismiss the possibility that it’s had an affect on your view of parenting.

As much as we like to think we’re better than that, indoctrination – particularly when it’s packaged as entertainment – has a subtle but powerful influence on us. I think we’re seeing the influence of The Brady Bunch in families across the country.

What do you think? Do you see evidence of The Brady Bunch in families today? And do you agree that the overall effect might have actually been negative?

( Photo by Joe Shlobotnik )


14 Responses to How The Brady Bunch Destroyed Parenting For a Generation

  1. Kevin, ironically, I wrote an article on this about a year ago!! This can be applied not only to discipline, but to money, looks and the whole lot!! We bought the Brady Bunch season one DVDs for our kids, eager for some clean TV, but I spent a good three months after watching it feeling like a horrible parent because I’m not spiffied up day and night like Carol and because we have problems such as our debt. This “harmless” show does do a lot in the way of teaching people that kids are on the same level as parents, and also of raising the expectation of having a perfect family, and we certainly don’t need either of those issues in today’s world. Great post.

  2. Thanks Laurie! I agree, the negative effects go beyond just parenting. The perfect image is an impossible standard, even if you have the financial means to imitate it. Of course, it’s even worse if you don’t. What is the url of your post???

  3. Kathy says:

    I’m more disturbed by TV and commercials today where the parents (especially the stupid father) is portrayed as being far beneath the children in terms of intelligence, tech saviness, and social awareness in terms of what progressives now perceive as being acceptable. The parents always have to learn “the right way” from their children. I feel there is a real campaign to destroy the family and social values that existed a few decades ago and replace those values with the politically correct version of today.

  4. Hi Kathy – I could really get on my soapbox on that one! Thank you for showing that I’m not the only one who notices that (actually, Bill Cosby was also all over that). On TV, the dad is always a near worthless buffoon, who must defer to his all-knowing wife, and is constantly (and easily) outwitted by his intellectually superior children, regardless of age. But have you also noticed that dad is never so much of an idiot that he can’t afford to keep the family in a high end home, in an upscale neighborhood, living lives that are generally free from serious financial concerns?

    TV attempts to have it both ways – Dad is an apparent career genius who earns a very upper middle class living, but is simultaneously a dope in the face of his family. I’m trying to understand how that message benefits anyone, other than the more radical elements of society who think that everything would be better if only men would quietly go away – but send support checks from a remote location.

  5. The bigger issue for me was that the show depicted a blended family. The earlier shows depicted perfect nuclear families. The Brady Bunch made it look simple and easy to break apart two families, and then reassemble a perfect third out of spare parts.

  6. Hi Kevin – Yes, that was an issue that I toyed with including, but the post was already too long and it wasn’t relevant to the general message. But on that score – in typical TV fashion – the family easily sailed past that hurdle to become a seamless, all-American family. The first few episodes dealt with it, though only superficially, and after that the issue was never revisited.

    If you started watching the show in Season 2 you would have been entirely unaware of the blended family thing, other than the opening jingle. In fact the show took great pains to make this family look so generic as to be unremarkable. But again, that’s the TV version of the world, and it explains much about why we’re a lost and distorted society today. You can’t take that kind of nonsense in without it having some sort of affect on you.

  7. Tricia Powe says:

    Kevin, the Brady Bunch provided hope that families and children crave and look for in an unsteady world. Seeing that a stepfamily can blend both motivates effort and convicts one of personal weaknesses. The Bradys provided examples of respect for others, did not use profanity, or parade teens having sex & partying wildly, but they made mistakes. I do see the Brady Bunch ideals living on, especially in the minds of stepmoms I see who carry the family fractures as personal failure. I saw examples of how a family could come together to work out problems – something many will not do today. Parents need backbones, not wishbones. Personally, I would choose the Brady Bunch every day over today’s reality shows but either paired with quality parent-child/teen communicated is the key and a shared set of values. Faith matters, too.

  8. Hi Tricia – I see what you’re saying, but the only problem is that it was based on a false hope. There were no serious problems facing the blended Brady family subsequent to the marriage. Most blended families face a host of pressures that the program didn’t remotely touch. It was the most superficial consideration of the true struggles of a blended family, watered down to the point of being irrelevant to reality.

    I agree that it’s much more pleasant than today’s reality programs, most of which are trash anyway. But I think that the message here is that TV is not the place to go to look for inspiration or direction. Who ever wrote and directed that show didn’t have the slightest idea how blended families function. The problems could go on for years! TV is usually guilty of romanticizing both their subjects and their subject matter, and that happened very early in the run of that series. The whole issue of a blended family – a potentially superior story line especially at that time – completely disappeared after the first season.

  9. I am not sure where I fall on the impact of television and our families, but I definitely agree with Kathy’s point that all tv dads are made to look like morons. I just wanted to draw a parallel with your article and a discussion I’ve heard a lot in the African American community regarding the Cosby Show. A lot of people are bothered by the ‘perfect’ portrayal of the Huxtables – the father is a doctor and the mother is a lawyer (really!?!). Many feel the standard they set as equally unrealistic and far-removed from the reality of the larger community.

  10. Hi Sherian – It’s interesting that you mention the Cosby Show because one of the reasons he created that show was because he didn’t like the way men/fathers were being portrayed on TV. The popular culture practice of margininalizing men has weakened families in the process.

    I think your observation about the perfect factor is very valid and goes beyond the African American community. TV sets impossible standards, so impossible that it mystifies me that more people aren’t turning off their TVs in disgust. No one on TV ever seems to have any real money issues, while the average American family is drowning in them (really, the statistics on this are frightening).

    In the past couple of years I’ve found myself watching and enjoying reruns of Roseanne. I never liked Roseanne Barr, but the show is closer to reality than most of the trash on TV. This is a family that not only struggles to survive, but they often reveal the gory details (no money, bill collectors, etc.). Sometimes the shows are based on a career crisis that carries accross multiple episodes. Most shows assume prosperity to be a given. Most of us real people can’t relate to that.

    Equally mysterious is the fact that viewers prefer the fantasy of perfect people leading perfect lives. I guess that’s part of the diversion they seek, but we also need to consider that the standards those shows set ARE having an affect on people. The Brady Bunch was just one very visible example.

  11. steve dean says:

    I think it is very ironic that the blame for raising children badly is being placed on a TV show rather than the parents themselves.

  12. Hi Steve – Your right, it is primarily the parents. But what causes the parents to be so lighthearted about raising their kids? I believe it’s societal factors, including TV especially. Attititudes change gradually over time, and the changes are helped along by external factors. That being the case, the negative influences to way beyond the Brady Bunch.

  13. Lisha says:

    I agree with Steve. TV is definitely a problem, I don’t negate that at all. But the other problem is really that people are so easily influenced!

    Kevin H’s comment rings true with me as I grew up in a blended family and it wasn’t nearly that pleasant. It took many years for me to be comfortable in it, and some of my siblings still aren’t comfortable with it. Blended families have at least twice as much drama and turmoil as nuclear families. But I do understand that this was not the topic you were trying to cover in this post :)

  14. Hi Lisha – That’s true, the blended family issue wasn’t center stage in my post, but it is important nonetheless. The Brady Bunch sailed past the issue in typical TV fashion, making it mildly interesting, slightly funny, but never dealing with it like the serious issue that it is. It is another example of the phoney baloney portrayal of the perfect American family.

    Everything on the Brady Bunch always worked out, despite the lack of apparent effort, at least not the kind that’s required in real life. That’s a misdirection of the highest order.

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