Entertainment

I'm Using 'The Fosters' On Amazon Prime To Start Hard Conversations With My Kids

Updated: 
Originally Published: 
I’m Using 'The Fosters' On Amazon Prime To Start Hard Conversations With My Kids
Freeform

The Fosters is a network TV show that ran from 2013 to 2018, during which time I never heard of it. It’s on Amazon Prime now though, and my kids and I started watching it last month. Not only are we all totally obsessed with the show, but as a parent, I love the show a little extra—for altogether different reasons apart from the compelling storytelling. This show is a veritable goldmine for bringing up tough or uncomfortable conversations with your kids.

The premise of The Fosters is that a pair of lesbian moms suddenly take in a teenage girl who has just been released from juvenile detention and has nowhere to go. The moms already have three kids of their own—a teenage biological son from a previous marriage, and a pair of teenage twins who came to the family at age five via adoption. One mom is a late-in-life lesbian cop, and the other is biracial and a vice principal at the charter school that the kids attend.

Given this setup, you can imagine the range of experiences and issues that these characters could bring to the table. We’re only midway through the second season, and I’ve already used The Fosters to generate conversations about LGBTQ+ issues, race issues, lying, adoption, sex, rape, consent, addiction, violence in policing… the list goes on and on.

My kids love it and don’t seem to know (or mind) that I’m using this show to teach them how to be good humans. One of the biggest lessons we take again and again from the show is how dangerous it can be to lie yourself out of a problem. Many of the storylines involve a little white lie—or even just an omission—from one of the characters that grows into a lot of really big, dangerous lies.

In the most recent episode we watched, one of the characters decides she should quit the high school dance team, which she loves, because she worries that being a dancer makes people—boys in particular, since she is also on the school STEAM team—take her less seriously as an academic. Another character asks her, “Why do you have to decide? Why can’t you be super smart and sexy?”

Freeform

My 10-year-old daughter isn’t thinking about being sexy, and maybe she’ll never give a crap about being sexy, but the lesson here doesn’t have anything to do with sex, and it isn’t just for my daughter. The message is about empowering young people to define themselves on their own terms. Using this scene from the show as a jumping-off point, we talked about how sad it would be to deprive yourself of something you love because you cared that much about someone else’s perception of you.

Addiction features prominently in The Fosters, as the twins’ biological mother lost custody of them as a result of her drug addiction, and the ex-husband of one of the moms is a recovering alcoholic. The show also sheds light on the foster care and adoption system, how complicated the legal aspects can be and how little choice kids in the system have over their own fates.

On numerous occasions, I’ve paused the show and asked my kids, “What just happened in this scene that you would have done differently? What would you do instead?” It sounds corny as hell, and honestly I expected my kids to be like, “Ughhh, Mom, can’t we just watch the show?” But, to my ongoing surprise, my kids, ages 14 and 10, really like telling me their ideas for how to avoid or solve problems.

In one episode, one of the sons has sex with his girlfriend for the first time, and they neglect to use protection. The next day, the girl is nervous she may have gotten pregnant. The two decide to get the morning after pill, but they need an adult’s permission since they’re only 16. Rather than go to either one of their moms, they pay a woman they don’t know to go into the pharmacy and buy the pill for them. Of course, because it’s a TV show, the mom finds out and chaos ensues.

I paused the show here to remind my kids that although I expect them to do their very best to make intelligent choices, I know that no one is perfect, and there will very likely come a day when they mess up. But I hope that if they ever do get in a jam, they would come to me to let me help them. I told them I will never shame them and I will not yell. There may be some unavoidable natural consequences, but I am not here to punish and shame and control. I’m here to teach them how to make smart decisions that will lead them to a happy, productive, fulfilling life.

Freeform

I also love that The Fosters shows both sides of the parent-child relationship. We see the kids caring very much what their parents think but still sometimes making stupid choices, but we also see the other side of that coin: parents agonizing about how to handle the different shenanigans their kids get into, always with their love for their children shaping their every move, as well as sometimes making stupid decisions of their own.

And, of course, this is all aside from the beauty of normalizing a two-mom household. Not only does the couple show their affection regularly, but the show also doesn’t try to play down their attraction for each other or turn their relationship into something that almost feels platonic, the way I’ve seen other shows that feature gay couples do. These women are clearly into each other. They have a sex life that is sometimes up and sometimes down and sometimes in need of discussion. In other words, a normal marriage.

I think The Fosters is meant to be for entertainment, but honestly, for me as a parent it has been a huge teaching tool. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to bring up all these topics to my kids, or if I did, it wouldn’t have felt organic the way it does when we’re just talking about the show. The storylines on The Fosters are a constant source of discussion between me and my kids.

I recommend the show for any parents who are looking to tackle big issues in a natural, non-preachy way. (In other words, I recommend it for every family.) My only warning about the show is that each episode ends on a cliffhanger, making it very hard not to roll forward to the next episode. You may end up glued to your TV for several hours at a time.

This article was originally published on