I've noticed my kids watching less television. Not logging less screen time, just watching less TV.
Left to his own devices (and in this case, the device would be an iPad) my 13-year-old son defaults to YouTube videos about people dressed in camouflage, shooting at one another other with air rifles. Meanwhile, my younger son gorges on videos about Minecraft, which is, as far as I can tell, some sort of Lego-like video game.
In other words, instead of actually playing games, they spend time watching other people play games -- which is somewhat disturbing. To be fair, they are both athletic and participate in team sports. But when they are resting, it's usually with an iPad balanced on their laps.
Still, once or twice a week we find ourselves in the family room, fighting over the remote control -- which the kids conveniently hide between the couch cushions so I can never flip to the NFL Channel.
What the boys decide to watch is probably a window into their brains. They seem to be attracted to reality shows involving police or other authority figures. They live in a suburban community where littering is at the top of the crime pyramid, so it should come as no surprise, I guess, that they are attracted to TV shows with a hint of drama.
I go back and forth about allowing them to watch these shows -- with their bleeped-out expletives and dramatic drug busts. But as long as I'm there to put things in context, I think seeing the seedier side of life is instructive. Many of today's kids live in a middle-class bubble and they are, sooner or later, going to be jarred by the realities of street life.
So here, in no particular order, are my boys' favorite shows.
* "Dog the Bounty Hunter." This long-running A&E series focuses on the exploits of Duane "Dog" Chapman, a Hawaii-based bounty hunter who tracks down assorted ne'er-do-wells. The bad guys are usually on the run from drug or weapons charges. While the show was canceled in 2012, reruns play endlessly on cable channels.
The boys seem attracted to the specter of danger around every corner and the oversized persona of Chapman, who looks like a professional wrestler but doles out life advice like a priest. The show nearly always ends with Chapman in the back seat of an SUV with a freshly apprehended fugitive, giving him or her tips on how to shape up.
* "Border Wars." This National Geographic Channel series follows U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who are constantly trying to sniff out drugs and apprehend undocumented workers trying to enter the country illegally. It's almost like teaching a civics lesson to try to explain to the boys why immigration issues are contentious on a political level, and why policing the U.S.-Mexican border is likely to be a topic of domestic debate for most of their lifetimes. The show is a good launching pad for these kinds of talks.
* "Parking Wars." This A&E offering -- again, a canceled show still in reruns -- follows traffic enforcement officers as they go about writing tickets and booting cars in Philadelphia. As you might imagine, following these poor public workers around as they absorb the taunts and insults of angry motorists provides good theater. I find watching the show a way to talk to the boys about good manners and keeping their cool. To see people spitting mad over a $12 parking ticket is a good illustration of how some people choose to lead conflicted lives.
* "Alaska State Troopers." Another National Geographic Channel reality series, this show follows Alaska's troopers as they police the sometimes-unruly regions of a state that calls itself "The Last Frontier." Indeed, the state seems to have a Wild West flavor. The title of a recent episode, "Drugged, Drunk and Deranged," pretty much sums up the theme of the show. Seeing people make fools of themselves while under the influence at least sends a message to the boys that lots of unflattering behavior results from drug and alcohol use.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.