The Modern Family Effect: Adoption in the Media

The television show Modern Family has helped to continue a paradigm shift about the portrayal of adoption in the media. Historically, adoption was not always portrayed accurately in television. We could call this “The Modern Family Effect.” But from Ernie’s adoption in “My Three Sons” to “Glee” and “Arrested Development,” television has been helping us move to a normal, realistic appreciation for adoption as part of life.

It used to be a common device for siblings on sit-coms to tell each other that they were adopted. This was played as a negative, and would result in hijinks centered on the idea that an adopted sibling didn’t belong. This was a harmful theme.

The portrayal of adoption in the media has become much more accurate. If a current-day television show were to use the trope of an adopted sibling being played as “not a real family member” it would be panned as hurtful, wrong, and offensive by reviewers. The media can now play a significant role in changing hurtful myths and stereotypes about adoption, and reverse some of the damage that it has done.

It’s tempting to blame the media for their mischaracterization of adoption in the past. However, television tends to reflect the collective views of society. Fortunately, we can appreciate the positive changes in both society and the media.

Instead of portraying families created through adoption as “unusual” or “not real” we need to, and have begun to, show the reality of love, thoughtfulness and “normalness” that is adoption. The Modern Family Effect bodes well for this change. Sit-coms have always been on the leading edge of how our changing society is portrayed on television, so an accurate and caring portrayal of adoption is a great indicator that adoption will be more fairly and accurately shown in the future.