When Family TV Time Turns Extremely Awkward

PHOTO: Watching television with family can lead to awkward situations.Getty Images
Settling in for a movie or TV show with your family this holiday season? Know what you're getting into, or be prepared to cringe.

You've probably been there before. Curled up on the couch with the family, TV glowing, a general good time being had by all.

Then, without warning, someone on the screen starts taking off their clothes. There's a string of dirty jokes. A kissing scene goes from G to R-rated at a nauseating speed. You want to crawl under the couch, cease watching all this moany-groany stuff with the people who birthed you (or who you gave birth to) and forget this ever happened. In short: it's super awkward.

It's something especially likely to happen during the holidays, when relatives of all ages congregate under one roof. I had my own cringe-tastic moment on Christmas while watching Bill Maher's HBO standup special with my mom and husband. (The joke that tipped the scale had to do with Martha Washington's privates.) Luckily, it was late, and no one objected to turning off the TV.

Others have gone to more drastic measures to avoid extremely awkward situations.

"The most recent 'Oh no' moment I can remember with my parents was on their recent visit from India," said Lalitha S., a California mom and wife (and, full disclosure, a relative of mine). She asked that her last name not be used. "I caught them watching 'Brokeback Mountain' at the part where the guys have just set up camp. My dad innocently said that he was going through our DVD collection and found it and decided to give it a try. I hurriedly removed the DVD, made up an excuse that it gets stuck quite often, replaced it with 'Gone With The Wind' and exited the room with 'Brokeback Mountain' in hand."

Lalitha said that given her parents' conservative Indian upbringing, she didn't think they'd get the gay cowboy drama. But "Brokeback" isn't the only movie in her video collection she's wary of.

"Another embarrasing moment that replays itself every few years is when my parents, in-laws or some random relative mentions that they want to watch our wedding video and relive the memories," she said. "How do we tell them we accidentally recorded an adult movie over it?! We just evade the question and change the topic each time!"

Sometimes, questions can't be avoided.

"One night when I was in high school, my mother and I were watching 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' and Ray made a crude joke about an orgy," said U.K., a New York woman who asked to be identified only by her initials. "I laughed out loud, but my mother just chuckled. I turned to her. She told me she didn't understand and followed up by asking me what an orgy was."

Ah yes, communication: it's one good thing that can come out of all the awkwardness, according to Nadine Kaslow, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University.

"If the relationships are pretty good, there's open communication, and people feel pretty confident with one another, know that the awkward feeling is going to pass, and joke it off or chat it off," she said.

It also helps to do your research, as one New Jersey dad found out when he took his then 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son to see "Borat," the gleefully offensive Sacha Baron Cohen pic that he thought was "just a funny movie."

"The biggest laugh in the theater was when I hustled them out while a rather large penis was on the screen," the dad said. (Like others in this story, he didn't want his name published). "My son thought it was hilarious. My daughter was in full cringe mode."

P.Y., a 26-year-old Detroit native, found herself in the reverse situation when she took her mom to see the foul-mouthed teddy bear flick "Ted" "not realizing how crude the jokes were."

"She looked at me during certain parts of the movie to see if I had a reaction," said P.Y., who asked to be identified only by her initials. "I remember this specifically when Ted was at the cashier and he squirted lotion on his face -- super awkward. I just kept saying out loud, 'OMG.'"

P.Y.'s mom called the movie "very inappropriate." "I couldn't look her in the face for several hours after," she said.

So: do you research and figure out what you can laugh off. (Penises and sexual lotion jokes may not fall in that category -- that's OK!) If you're spending the holidays with extended family and friends, you might want to ask them to do the same.

"If you happen to be the parent with stricter rules and everyone's watching 'Wedding Crashers' and you're not comfortable with your 8-year-old watching that, you need to say, 'If the family chooses to do this, then we're going to go in another room," Kaslow said. "It will mean compromise, it will mean negotiation."

Both of which sound like better options than employing the "ninja-like reflexes" that one Singapore resident, who asked not to be named, used to shield his grandmother from a lesbian love scene in "Femme Fatale." (It was bad enough when his mom walked in on him watching the movie.)

"I nervously thought about reaching for the remote and changing the channel, but that would be awkward," he said. "I could tell mom was a bit uneasy as well as neither of us was moving."

"Then, the door to the living room opened and my grandmother walked in. With ninja-like reflexes, both mom and I reached for the remote and changed it before she had a chance to look at the TV. Phew."

Have you experienced a moment of total awkwardness while watching something with your family? Share your story in the comments section.