I started watching soaps when I was 10 years old, with my aunt. It was 1980, the summer of Luke and Laura, and I've been hooked ever since. (Though not always on GH; in the thirty plus years since then, I've pretty much watched every show, with each taking a turn at being my favorite at some point.)
Not content with merely watching soaps, I yearned to be a part of them. In 1994, I wrote E!'s talk show, "Pure Soap." In 1995, I moved to ABC Daytime and in 2000, I landed at P&G, where I produced the official websites of ATWT and GL, wrote the tie-in books, "Oakdale Confidential," "The Man From Oakdale," and "Jonathan's Story," and developed "Another World Today."
And yet, in spite of all that, I never did the one thing that's been proven key to keeping soap viewership going - I never introduced my kids to soaps.
Until, that is, this past week. My sons are 13 and 9. My daughter is 6. And this past Spring Break, they watched their first five consecutive, soap opera episodes, as GH prepared to celebrate their 50th Anniversary.
My younger two promptly dubbed it "That show where the teddy bear got a girl kidnapped." That's how they asked for it. "Are we going to watch the show about the teddy bear today?"
My oldest son, on the other hand, first asked me to catch him up on the past 50 years he'd missed. When my husband (a lifelong AMC fan) told him that was impossible, my son demonstrated how this wasn't his parents' days of watching soaps. No one has to just jump into the middle anymore - he went on Wikipedia and started reading about the Spencers and the Cassadines and who was Helena and why did she hate Luke and Laura, peppering me with questions about details like who is Nikolas' dad and where was Lucky. (In my day, we didn't have Wikipedia, son....)
The four of us watched diliginetly for a week, which required me schooling my kids in the World Security Bureau, and Richard Simmons and why Mac finally punching Frisco was almost 20 years in the making (yes, I'm one of those who thinks Frisco was a deadbeat dad and deserves no sympathy).
And I realized something, too. Despite soaps having a rep as "stories for grown ups," they are actually perfect for kids. And I don't mean that as an insult. Soaps are big and emotional and dramatic. Something is always happening while, at the same time, what's going on is always being explained, so nobody feels like they're missing something. Kids, especially teens' lives, are messy and confusing and everything feels like a matter of life and death. Just like the soaps.
The teen years are the perfect time to get hooked because the stories are both compelling and constant. If nothing else, you know that tomorrow there will be another episode of "General Hospital." And that's very reassuring in a way that the rest of your life simply isn't (plus, everyone is pretty and doesn't have pimples, another fantasy element).
In the beginning, it's all about: What's going to happen next? That's where the initial excitement comes from. Then, as you get more and more into the story, what happens next becomes less important than how the characters you've grown to love will respond to it. All scenes take on layers and layers of meaning because now you know the backstory behind Mac punching Frisco, or Helena capturing Luke and Laura or even, yes, that song Richard Simmons played on his boombox while remembering Amy Vining and her love of gossip.
What an adult gets out of soaps is not the same thing as what a kid gets. But, both experiences are valid. And awesome.
So don't be like me. If you haven't introduced your kids yet to soap operas, do it quickly.... Before your chance is lost forever.