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.
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.
In this episode, Greg is serving a grounding sentence for 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 he 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 (the oldest Brady daughter), 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 TV parents, as though it‘s somehow the enlightened course of action.
I also submit that it’s that kind lack of discipline that has contributed 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?