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By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter, Contributing Writer

We stood speechless, side by side, in his room. I didn’t even look at him, although neither words nor actions were necessary to communicate. The silence made him jumpy.

“What? What?” Pre-teens can sound incredibly erudite.

Still not making eye contact, I finally spoke. “Tell me about this room. Tell how you define ‘clean.’ Then tell me how it applies to this space.”

His response should not have surprised me; as the mother of two boys, I should find nothing surprising. But when he referenced a reality show as his first line of defense, it indicated to me that his standard of living was certainly not in line with the rest of the family’s. It also was abundantly clear that I would need to revise my TV-watching rules and perhaps ban television altogether.

My 12-year-old actually believed that if his room was not cluttered enough to be condemned, if he could see parts of the floor and if television cameras were not waiting to show the world his collection of trash, then it was not a significant problem. He was mistaken. My initial silence was not because I lacked words; I was giving him the  opportunity to make sense. He failed to impress me.

The issue is not about his ability to clean. He has successfully completed a chore list since he was 2 years old. Of course, it included responsibilities such as “Put stuffed animals on the bed” and “Brush teeth.” Regardless of the complexity of the chore, he has historically appreciated the joy of a job well done. At least he used to.

Although I had heard gossip that TLC, The Learning Channel, had very little to do with actual education, I scoffed at that rumor. I assumed that one could not include the word “learning” to name an entire television station if it was not true. I was mistaken. This was becoming a bad family habit.

A little investigation into “reality” shows proved that they are far from documentaries. In fact, they seem to be single-minded, subjective, opinionated, nonresearch-centered peeks into the lives of the mundane with a twist of daily horror to make the audience feel good about themselves and their decisions.

Honey Boo Boo has nothing to do with bees or bee stings, despite what the title suggests. It spotlights the adventures of a family dripping with poor language, horrible eating habits, nasty manners and unintelligible speech. Many of my friends love this show because apparently these people are hilarious. Comedy and laughing are essential ingredients needed to decrease stress, but I would rather have my youngest mock the antics of a cat-and-mouse cartoon chase and not try to emulate the behavior of “real” people to garner attention. But that’s just me.

There are a large number of programs that focus on children. Jon and Kate have eight children, but the fact that she produced six of them simultaneously with the help of modern medicine apparently warranted the need to create an entire series about, well, raising eight children.

However, they have nothing on the Duggars, who have 19 children. Their youngest child is younger than their oldest grandchild. Although they lack superpowers, just living without government support with relatively few tabloid-style stories has earned them cameras in their home for more than a decade.

Because of their diminutive stature, the pumpkin-estate-owning Roloff family parents deserve celebrity-status attention and additional income for the constant spewing of their opinions. Another “little” family recently adopted a “little” person from China. Other than their unique size, there seems to be nothing else that supports the need for an entire show.

The anxiety and stress that impact the family and individuals affected with hoarding issues are captivating. The extreme cases portrayed on TV make it appear as if this is not an unusual occurrence. So if you compare your floor with the stack of garbage lining the abodes of the stars each episode, you would most certainly come out a winner. And, like my son does, it becomes too easy to justify the small piles of odiferous garments as insignificant.

I love TV. I love everything about it. I love the crime and humor. I love the company and education. I love that it stays up late with me when I am trying to finish a project. I love old shows and new shows, fiction and fact. I don’t know if this is true, but I bet almost everyone in this country has a way to view TV shows or even movies.

It’s clear that I cannot ban television. My love for it outweighs the horrors it brings into my home. But I have learned a lesson.

Whether it’s watched on the small screen or found on the bedroom floor, reality bites.

DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.

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