My goodness, but isn't catch-up TV a marvellous invention?
Since having Joshua, I have completely got out of the habit of watching television during the day, partly because there isn't time to sit down and commit to watching anything all the way through now my wee boy is on the verge of walking, and partly because daytime TV is mostly dire and not really worth the bother of switching on. But despite my normally scornful attitude towards Channel 4, I'm actively seeking out Channel 4 On Demand on a daily basis at the moment so I can watch Supernanny. And what a wonderful woman she is!
Jo Frost, aka "Supernanny", has almost two decades of professional nannying experience, and her claim to fame is that no child has ever yet defeated her. The format of her show is simple and formulaic: parents apply for the opportunity to have Jo come and stay in their home, she turns up cheerfully and spends a day observing normal family life without intervention, she enlightens the parents as to where they are going wrong with their poorly-behaved offspring and then trains Mum and Dad to discipline their children effectively, departing - Mary Poppins-like - once she is no longer needed. The infamous Naughty Step is an integral part of her teaching, and disobedient children receive a warning before being marched to the designated step / chair / beanbag, where they remain for a minute to match every year of their age. If a sincere apology is forthcoming after the appropriate length of time has elapsed, the child is integrated back into whatever family fun is taking place at the time without grudge; if the apology is not offered, however, the child returns to the NS until remorse is evident. Supernanny endlessly supports the desperate, exhausted parents as they attempt to impose a routine upon their unruly children, and advocates calmness, control and consistency. She recommends an authoritative tone of voice without ever suggesting that parents need to shout to be heard, and corporal punishment is never mentioned. Each episode is basically the same, with the only real variations being the number and genders of the children featured and the nature of their challenging behaviour. Some swear appallingly, some are physically aggressive, some are breathtakingly rude and some throw the most lavish tantrums you'll ever see, but all are in need of some serious discipline. And into these situations walks Supernanny, quite calmly and with absolute confidence that she will succeed in turning around both the children and the parents. And I have never seen her fail in this aim, in the course of five British series and quite a few American episodes.
Now obviously Supernanny is reality TV, so it follows that there has to be a debate about its intrinsic value and significance. Are the children being exploited? Are the parents really as weak-willed as they seem? How much is edited out? Are Jo Frost's methods really as effective as they look? Should children be coerced into apologising? Isn't it just car-crash TV masquerading as something far worthier, with no discernably edifying purpose? I recently read an article online by a journalist who profoundly disagrees with most of what Jo Frost stands for, and concludes that she is "authentically dim" following an interview in which she occasionally misuses grammar and speaks out against the ever-declining standards of behaviour which are unfortunately permeating modern society more and more.
It's received wisdom by now that all reality TV should be taken with a large pinch of salt, because the producers need to fit it all neatly into an hour, are seeking to attract the largest possible audiences, are always maintaining a particular stance of some sort that they subtly aim to convey to their viewers, and will often edit programmes in a particular way so as to achieve all three things without regard for its subjects and how they end up looking on national television. In this case the subjects are first the parents (who must surely have failed spectacularly to raise their children properly or they wouldn't be contacting Supernanny as a desperate last resort) and then their children (who are bound to look back in a few years' time and - providing they have turned over a new leaf and begun behaving properly - wince when they see evidence of the outrageous shenanigans to which they once wilfully subjected their parents). No doubt there are commentators far more articulate than I who could dig deeply into the likely psychological effect upon the children and the reasons why exposing their bad behaviour publicly in this way is a dreadful idea, and why reality TV in all its different forms is responsible for so many of society's current problems.
But can we just stand back for a moment and try not to get in a lather about TV cameras in kids' bedrooms or the thorny moral issue of child exploitation or whether the parents are being wrongly and unfairly portrayed as completely useless as soon as Jo Frost leaves them to their own devices for a week? Surely, if you forget for a second that you are watching reality TV with all its associated disclaimers, the main thing should be that the children featured actually behave in the way they are shown to do so on TV, and that they shouldn't be allowed to do so for the sakes of themselves, their parents and the rest of society. Even if Jo Frost is simply playing the part of the heroine in an engineered situation (and actually I don't believe this is true - I think she comes across as fair and genuinely concerned for the ultimate welfare of the families with whom she works), she is doing us all a favour by highlighting the fact that rude, disobedient, aggressive and disrespectful behaviour is not acceptable or necessary. It's pointless to judge the parents of the children who feature in Supernanny, and would in any case completely contradict everything I wrote in my last post, which would never do. The parents are well aware that they have not managed for some reason to instil desirable behaviour in their children, and Jo Frost's approach is refreshing and forward-thinking; she counsels the parents to put the past behind them, to start the new regime today and to be consistent if they want to see good results.
Why on earth should anti-social behaviour, which affects the nuclear family most of all but the rest of society gradually and to a significant degree, be tolerated and permitted? Why should it be acceptable for a child to swear at parents and teachers, physically attack other family members or their peers by pinching and hitting and scratching and punching, decide for themselves at absurdly early ages what they are going to do without the maturity and wisdom to know what's actually best for them, and in so many ways to try and reverse the correct order of things where adults are in charge and children wait their turn to exert authority over the next generation? Why should weary teachers all over the country have to deal with children who don't behave properly in the classroom and actively hinder the learning of other, more compliant, pupils? Why should tiny tearaways be allowed to grow up into huge, ASBO-possessing teenagers who roam the streets in gangs, setting a bad example to little ones and terrifying pensioners? The only answer is that none of this should happen, and furthermore that such scenarios are nearly always entirely avoidable.
Supernanny encourages parents to praise their children for good behaviour, even if it constitutes something as simple as sitting nicely at the table and eating the food that is put in front of them, and to initiate fun activities which will build the family unit in a positive manner, distract potentially naughty children from acting in an undesirable manner, valuing the child as an individual whilst not tolerating unacceptable behaviour and setting an excellent example to them. All of these things are almost guaranteed to produce well-rounded, well-behaved children when coupled with strict discipline and consistency. Proverbs 22 v6 says "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" and this is so true. Training requires grit, commitment and determination, whether from an athlete, a musician or a parent. I have seen plenty of parents who demonstrate these qualities in abundance as they raise their children, and plenty who do not. Every teacher knows firstly that you only have to meet the parents to understand the child, and also how very much the good behaviour of a young person should be valued and appreciated for their positive contribution to society. A combination of regular Supernanny-viewing and exposure to the excellent parenting practised by people I know is certainly instilling in me more and more the need to live out Proverbs 22 v6 every day. I really believe it should be every parent's wish that their child makes a good contribution to society, for everyone's benefit, and that Supernanny is the best kind of reality TV there is - encouraging, positive and with a happy ending.