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parental guidance in a honey boo boo world

Raising Kind Children in a Honey Boo Boo World

By Chris Jordan

At the end of the school year my daughter’s class did a project where they made a page for everyone in their class saying what they admired about that person the most. The pages were then compiled for each child into a book for them to take home. Some of the kids had books filled with things like, “You are so good at math!” or “You read really big books.” or “You have a nice smile.” Every single kid in my daughter’s class wrote about how nice and kind she was. Some even saying that they had never seen her be mean to anyone.

I loved this project. When I compared notes with her friend’s mothers they were all astonished that their children’s books had likewise focused in on the one characteristic of their child. One mother laughed that the majority of the children in the class had called her daughter helpful. “I fear that is polite code for bossy! Which would be accurate.”

While I am proud of all the things my children do and accomplish, hearing that they are kind and compassionate human beings, makes me the most proud.


Increasingly I look around at the world and wonder when making fun of people became acceptable. My kids sometimes laugh at things that make me cringe. And on more occasions than I would care to remember I have had to remind one of my children that saying something mean followed by, “Just kidding!” doesn’t in fact make it a joke.

Most reality shows I don’t allow on my television. My 11 yr old son is constantly pestering me to allow him to watch Jersey Shore. It is apparently all the talk of the elementary school yard. It saddens me that children are watching what they believe is reality and what they believe are examples of how adults interact with each other. When did it become okay to humiliate people for our own enjoyment, whether they consent to the humiliation or not. How did so many people become desensitized to the feelings of other people?

Before I climb too high up on my horse, my children have watched Dance Moms, Toddlers and Tiaras, Hoarders, and American Idol. While they differ in their content, we don’t see the Dance Moms or the Toddler and Tiara parents getting drunk and fighting, the underlying message of the shows is the same. Look at these people! They are crazy, uneducated, overweight, etc. You are better than them, therefore, you can poke fun and laugh at them. Now doesn’t that make you feel better about yourself?


It turns out, reality TV is a lot like eating junk food– a little bit, while not good for you, won’t kill you, but a steady diet of it is not without consequences.

A man named George Gerbner began studying the effects of heavy television viewing* way back in the dark ages of TV, the 1960s. He went on to develop a theory, called cultivation theory. In a nutshell, he believed that watching a lot of television affects the way we perceive the world, the more TV watching, the greater the impact. In other words, television cultivates people’s perception of reality. He asserts that television is the primary story teller of our generation, replacing parents, schools and churches.

Gerbner’s primary interest as a psychologist was violence on television and the way it distorted the perception of viewers about how violent the world actually was. How many of us as parents feel that kidnapping is a real, looming threat to our children? Statistically speaking it isn’t. But that hasn’t stopped the stranger-danger paranoia. Gerbner developed something he called The Mean World Index. It consists of three statements:

  • Most people are just looking out for themselves.
  • You can’t be too careful in dealing with people.
  • Most people would take advantage of you if they got the chance.

Those who watched the most television were also the ones who said these statements were the most accurate.

Those three statements just about sum up the message of every reality TV show out there.

And those three statements are not things I want my children to believe. I don’t think that they are true. The vast majority of people in the world are good and kind. I believe that to be true.

It took Honey Boo Boo to spark a conversation about reality TV in my home, and how it isn’t reality. How hours and hours of footage is edited into a single episode to promote the agenda that TV producers feel would get the most people watching the show. This came as a surprise to my youngest children who truly believed we were watching the show in real time.  “What do the people do while the commercials are on, Mom?”

We were watching one of the very first episodes of the show Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo when my 15-year-old son piped up that he really disliked this show. As a kid, who was unmercifully bullied for a full year in middle school, he is very empathetic to anyone he perceives as being picked on. I agreed with every one of his points. To me, the family is being set up to be made fun of. We were supposed to laugh at their ignorance, lack of manners, poor diet, and obesity.

However, what we saw when we looked beyond the in-your-face-presentation and the shock value (do we need to see anyone burp or fart on camera, ever?), was a more subtle storyline, that of a family that really seems to love and enjoy the heck out of each other. Their house is remarkably clean and orderly, especially when you consider how many people are living in the small space. And presumably to drive the point home about how poor they are, the camera panned out for the twentieth time and showed the house right up against the train tracks with a train whizzing by literally in their yard, my 7 yr old son complained, “They are so lucky! Why can’t we live next to train tracks!”

My 15-year-old son said he didn’t want to watch the show anymore. It made him feel uncomfortable to have any part of it. “They seem like good people, Mom.”

I don’t want my kids to become desensitized. I don’t want them to think it is okay to make fun of other people or feel superior to other people.  I don’t want them to think that humor comes at the expensive of another human being.  I don’t want them to think watching another person’s pain is entertainment.  Some days I feel discouraged because there is always another show, another group of people being exploited on television, another envelope being pushed. I can only help my children to develop their critical thinking skills so they will recognize it on their own and to point out all the kindness I see in the world.

*It is important to note that Gerbner defined heavy tv viewing as four hours or more per day. The average American child watches 28-32 hours per week.

Photo source: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Andrea

    September 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I love this post. Sure…I could do without the burping and farting, but if you can get beyond that…this is a family that truly cares about each other. Show me an upper middle class family that spends as much time together as a family and actually ENJOY it. Because they don’t have all the fancy electronics, they come up with fun ways to spend time together (albeit smelly breath contests) but they get outside and have fun as a family.

    These parents truly want what’s best for their kids and make an effort to spend time with them to show them they care. I LOVE that Sugar Bear took Honey Boo Boo to the skating rink for one-on-one time…that isn’t something you see everyday and I think more parents should do that.

    • StacyfrPgh

      September 25, 2012 at 6:10 pm

      Andrea, I can bet my bottom dollar that the producers asked Sugar Bear to take her skating. Not that the family doesn’t love each other or do things together, just that is probably something not done on a regular basis. In our family, we have discussed that this family is being paid to be on TV and that may help them out to make ends meet. Remember, most families are just plain boring when you think about it, so activities need to be manufactured to make the 30 minutes go by.

  • Liz

    September 25, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Once again, Chris, you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for putting your lone voice out there amidst the cacophony of people preaching the opposite. Never doubt your writing, there are many of us who want and need to hear what you have to say. You fill a void of practical parenting advice, especially regarding older kids and teens!

  • Jenn

    September 25, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Actually, I think that in the case of Honey Boo Boo you ARE supposed to come away with positive opinions of the family. Sure, the commercials just make them look like crazy rednecks, but when I watched the show (which I expected to hate and turn off immediately) I was surprised at the emphasis on family and other positive aspects of their lives. And I ended up enjoying watching them “love the heck out of each other” and all the fun they have. So I think that show is kind of a bad example of a reality show that’s supposed to make you feel good about yourself. It actually pointed out to me some things I need to work on in my own life to be more like them!

  • MEH

    September 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Thank you for the info on Gerbner. It’s good to know that someone has proven it. Unfortunately no one seems to be listening. It affects how Rural vs. City view each other. It affects how minorities vs majorities view each other. My feelings are that we are more alike than we are different. Please keep blogging – you’ve been missed.

  • Jeannie

    September 25, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    My husband and I gave up television altogether seven years ago, mostly because of this type of thing. I can’t stand watching — in reality TV or a scripted drama — people being mean to each other. I don’t want to believe the world works that way and I certainly don’t want my kids to believe it does either. My children, now 6 and 2, have never had television. My six year old is now finally old enough to realize that this is weird, and yet the other day when I asked him if it bothered him and if he wanted television, he said no.

    Don’t get me wrong — they both have plenty of access to media. We have iPads and computers, and we rent or buy shows for them — but Backyardigans (for the 2 year old) and Mythbusters (for the six year old). We choose it — no programs based on watching other people’s pain — and no ads as an added bonus.

    We probably do miss out on a ton of good programming, because there’s plenty of it out there, but at the moment our lives aren’t significantly poorer for it.

  • LMo

    September 25, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Chris, this is a great article–thank you for sharing your perspective. While I don’t have children (yet) I can certainly see the impact of television on my life and my perceptions. And add me to the list of people who enjoy your blogging–you’ve been missed!

  • Adriana

    September 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    I have never heard of cultivation theory and I find that very interesting.
    I personally can not stand reality shows and somehow have managed to not watch much of it. I have caught a couple of episode Toddlers and Tiaras back in the day, but that’s about it.
    No Idols, or Can you Dance, or bachelors anything. And my kids have never watched any reality shows. I’m not trying to be snobbish in my statement. I have never understood the draw of the reality shows nor do I understand the celebrity status some of these people get. I just do not get the entertainment in watching them.
    Last year we stopped getting cable. It’s been wonderful! The shows that my husband and I truly do like we can watch on our computer or we can pick movies through netflix. I think it’s rather sad that we actually feel free from the TV. So many people can’t believe we don’t have cable. We as a society are so tied to it… but then again I am tied to my computer. Don’t you dare take that away from me. 😉

  • Dee

    September 25, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I think your 15 year old is “good people”. 

  • J from Ireland

    September 25, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    I had to google Honey Boo Boo to see what everyone was talking about on twitter & blogd I read. Being in Ireland it hasnt aired here yet and hopefully never will.
    I found it very uncomfortable to watch as I felt soo bad for this family. I know reality television has taken off big time over here but I hope we are faraway from finding this sort of programme enertaining. I also recently saw a commercial on irish telly for a new American show “roasting comedians live on telly”, basicially insulting the likes of Rosanne Barr by her fellow comedians, just horrible stuff with the audience in stiches laughing. Jaysus, I know we have shite on our tv over here, sure I am mortified by “Fair City” but those sort of shows are just not funny and a form of bullying. This of course is just my opinion.

  • Ruth H

    September 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I feel the same way about Duck Dynasty. In their case they are advertised as rich rednecks, and they are. They are not advertised as an intact, loving family that really cares for each other. I accidentally watched one episode and got hooked. They are educated, speak well and while they are “boys will be boys” at times, they are a loving family. Your boys might enjoy it.

  • Sharon

    September 25, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    I recently read an interview with a store owner and resident of the town where Honey Boo Boo is filmed.   The man said he thought they were a nice family and that it was unfortunate that the show was edited to make them look stupid. He also said it was a shame that the cameras focuses on the trash on the side of the road or the train tracks when there is some nice scenery that they always leave out.  What I liked best was when the interviewer asked if he worries that viewers  will think of them as backwards rednecks. He said people will think what they want to think but he knows that people there have kindness in their hearts regardless.  

  • Melani

    September 26, 2012 at 8:38 am

    I’m with your 15 year old son…I just hate seeing people being made fun of.  I was bullied/teased as a child and it just makes me so uncomfortable. I haven’t watched the show because of the commercials.  I felt like they were taking advantage of these people but I have read what a few people have written about them.  Surprisingly, all the things I’ve read have said the same thing you did; this is a family that loves each other and knows how to enjoy spending time together. With that said, I doubt I’ll watch it.  To be honest, I was raised in a family that most people would consider “poor Rednecks” and I think it would probably just make me mad. 

    My kids do like some reality television but we talk about how some scenes are obviously staged or discuss how camera editing is used to make it seem like one thing happened when in reality it was something else.  It leads to some interesting conversations. 

  • Arnebya

    September 26, 2012 at 9:26 am

    I lost interest in reality tv a while ago. I’ve never watched any of the housewives or the basketball wives (but I did watch an episode or three of Mob Wives. Even that couldn’t hold my attention because it’s just women fighting, calling names, being ridiculous. It lost entertainment value for me). My girls have watched Dance Moms (some of the girls are very talented, I think), American Idol, and America’s Next Top Model (though w/that one I do have to monitor it and talk to them more to understand that the way girls act does NOT have to happen. It’s not an automatic or a given that girls get catty in tight quarters or in competition).

    We haven’t watched Honey Boo Boo and I doubt we will. They may be a nice family, but I’m just not in the mood for “reality” tv anymore, wanting to yell none of this is real! I become embarrassed when I think people are being made fun or when people are embarrassing themselves (every time I’d hear someone make a comment about Love and Hip Hop the women were always fighting, the men always sleeping around). I don’t want to judge those who find value in watching, but I can’t make myself join the club(s).

  • Molly

    September 26, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Your discussion with your children about how reality tv is edited by producers to focus on particular things–how it’s not any more “real” than any other TV show–made me think of an interesting experiment to do with kids. Have a more than one of them record some family videos of a day or an outing and then edit them individually (my Mac came with iMovie software to do this easily). Then compare the finished products and ask how each person portrayed the day differently. Even if it’s just part of a hypothetical activity, it goes right to your point that these shows are designed to exploit their subjects in a deliberate way. 

  • Michela

    September 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I have always tried to teach my children that “if everyone doesn’t laugh, it’s not funny”. I have been so proud of my kids, there are quite a few times that I have heard of them defending someone being bullied….once my oldest daughter actually pushed a girl in the corner and stood in front and fought off others that wanted to hurt the girl. Thank goodness there were teachers near! I have watched Honey Boo Boo a few times…and while they are certainly made to seem outrageous and the butt of a joke, I have noticed the good too. The mom really cares for her kids. Everything is clean and the kids are well cared for. Unfortunately that is not what most look for, we are anonymous behind our tv sets and take alot of pleasure in laughing at others.

  • Nell

    September 26, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Thanks for this, Chris.  Well put.

  • Jennifer

    September 27, 2012 at 8:31 am

    I totally agree with you, Chris. I am contemplating just turning off our cable because my kids are always wanting to watch shows like this. The other day I walked in and saw my daughter, almost 12, watching real housewives. I just don’t want her to think that women really act like this. Their whole lives spent fighting with each other? ugh. I am tired of it. To me shows like Hoarders or the rehab/intervention shows seem a little different because sometimes these people are actually helped. 

  • Donna

    September 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    First of all, I too think your 15yr old is: “good people”

    Honey Boo Boo…. I like June. While I agree we don’t need to see farting and burping on TV, I think the show has more than that to offer. The family, while obviously poor, keeps a clean house, they pay attention to how they spend their money, and they seem to genuinely get along. Sure, they might buy foods that are high in fat but those are usually the cheapest foods too. The sad part? TLC doesn’t give two shits about this family other than ratings and what the family can do in terms of revenue. AND, how can any one family prepare for how this reality show will change their lives. Sure, they might make more money, but at what price? Will the monetary payoff really be worth it in the end? That is the tricky part, and the very part that most people probably don’t think about. I hope June and Sugar Bear are smart enough to save some money and get out of reality TV before it eats them and their family alive. I’d rather watch Honey Boo Boo than Kardashian Family any day of the week. That show isn’t even reality? Who lives like that? Conspicuous Consumption at its best!! AND they know better, they don’t have to live their lives out on TV and in magazines because they’re wealthy to begin with. They choose to live their lives out on a reality TV show and in weekly magazines…..for MORE money/fame/power.

  • Kate

    October 2, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Other than the obvious, I couldn’t really put my finger on why these shows, and this one in particular, makes me uncomfortable. You hit the nail on the head. I had seen Honey Boo Boo on the Anderson show and thought they were outrageous. I thought that show was exploiting them as well. I expected more from Anderson Cooper, and I hope that doing this reality show benefits them in the way they hope it will.

  • Rose

    October 2, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Definitely in agreement with your article.  Might I add one more thing for all of you parents to think about?

    Have we not all heard that bad kids come from bad parents? There are several signs of bad parenting. The actions of the parents speak more in front of the children than just the words. As the first teachers of a child, parents are the first influence in the life of the child and the attitude, views, goals, perspective on life, etc. of the child depends to a larger extent on what he learns from parents. What a child learns in the initial years are known to have a lasting impression on the mind of the child.

    With that said, we parents need to examine our own choices in shows, radio stations, movies from Netflix, etc.  What are we allowing into our minds?  Thoughts become actions, so we, as parents, need to consider our thought life?  Are there inappropriate materials in our home?  Do we say and do things to others that our children witness that aren’t so nice?

    Just some food for thought!

  • Kathy Sykes

    October 3, 2012 at 10:54 am

    That was my first reaction when I was TOLD about Honey Boo Boo was that people are making fun of a family’s “seemingly” misfortune. But when I watched it, I understood that they have all the fortune in the world and the people who are laughing are the ones with the problem. I live in the South (TN) and yes I have seen people like this. There is nothing wrong with them. They know how to live happy lives without excess or wealth. There are some behaviors that could be modified to have a healthier life but overall……Happiness and being kind to people is what matters most.

  • Mary

    October 10, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I love these people LOVE them.  They are who they are and are happy being themselves.  June and Sugar Bear love each other and love the girls.