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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this '80s sitcom is about a strong nuclear family headed by loving parents who communicate well with each other and their kids. It's heavy on positive messages about self-esteem, personal responsibility, and making good choices, all of which are delivered in storylines that are relatable for tweens and teens. Most episodes deal with typical issues for families with kids who are coming of age: budding romantic relationships, popularity woes, and adolescent mischief. Some topics can be emotional, including encounters with prejudice and the death of family members and friends. Teen characters face peer pressure to drink, smoke, and do drugs, but they always make the tough choice and do the right thing.
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What's the story?
Classic '80s sitcom GROWING PAINS follows the ups and downs of family life with a full household of busy kids and two parents managing successful careers. Alan Thicke stars as Dr. Jason Seaver, a psychiatrist who, for much of the series, runs his practice out of his house so he can help out while wife Maggie (Joanna Kerns) pursues her career as a journalist. Despite their busy schedules, this dynamic parenting duo always manages to carve out bits of time for themselves and each other, and their loving, mutually considerate relationship is the foundation for the entire family. Meanwhile, oldest son Mike (Kirk Cameron) is a below-average student prone to getting into lots of good-natured mischief; middle child Carol (Tracey Gold) excels in academics and is a bit of a goody-two-shoes; and rambunctious younger son Ben (Jeremy Miller) gets into his fair share of trouble, too. In 1990, a fourth child joined the Seaver family when Maggie gave birth to Chrissy, who (through the miracle of TV) matured between seasons to become a perky youngster played by Ashley Johnson; another late addition was Leonardo DiCaprio as Luke Brower, a homeless teenager who came to live with the Seavers.
Is it any good?
Though Growing Pains is a typical sitcom in many ways -- most obviously in the ability to solve problems in less than 30 minutes -- its comedy roots didn't stop it from addressing some emotional issues that are still relevant today, including bigotry, sexism, women balancing careers and family, loved ones' death, and teen drug and alcohol use. Through it all, strong messages about responsibility, self-respect, accepting others, and making good decisions come through thanks to the strong parental role models who invite communication and open relationships with their kids. While very young viewers won't be able to grasp the storylines, this is a great series to share with older kids, tweens, and young teens, who may end up liking it so much -- despite the cheesy '80s clothes and hair -- that they won't realize the life lessons they're picking up along the way.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how parents and kids relate to each other. Kids: Do you find the characters in this series believable? How are their relationships with their parents different from yours? How do their relationships with their siblings compare to yours? How does this show compare to today's sitcoms? What marks it as an "'80s show"? The series also offers plenty of plot-based discussion points. What issues did the characters face in the show? Who did they turn to for help? What would you have done in their situation? Do you think the parents' advice was good? Why or why not?