What Harm Supernanny?

Anyone with a television set cannot fail to have noticed the proliferation of TV programmes like Supernanny, introducing us to the children from hell and their long-suffering clueless parents.

I have a real problem with these programmes and not simply because they are delivered often by non-qualified so-called professional experts.

Many new parents, especially young, parents for the first time, feel extremely vulnerable and ill prepared for parenthood.  They are hungry for information and advice.  They’ll watch absolutely any TV programme that purports to give them the answers.  Baby and parenting magazines fly off the shelves at newsagents and much of the information is soaked up as ‘gospel’.  However, these programmes should come with a warning ‘for entertainment only’.  We are not told how many takes it took for the child in question to correct his/her behaviour for the programme nor do we see what happens in the family when the television cameras are long gone.  We’re led to believe that all problems have been resolved by techniques long established as unsafe or with no real value by the true experts in the field and that the family lived happy ever after.

Harm to Parents?

Of particular concern to me is the negative impact these programmes have on parents when the techniques offered don’t work for them and their child/ren.  They can only conclude that they are poor, inadequate parents with what must be the most poorly behaved child/ren in the country.  This at a time when they’re probably feeling at their most fragile and in need of hearing how well they are doing and how with patience, love and care, the behaviour deemed to be unacceptable will inevitably improve.

It would appear that it’s not only parents who are sucked in by these ill-informed programmes.  Only very recently a nursery owner of a Northamptonshire nursery was accused of common assault after using a method of discipline described as having been promoted in the Supernanny programme. It was said she allegedly pulled a child across the floor to a ‘naughty chair’.  It was also claimed that she raised her voice and pointed her finger directly into the young two-year old girl’s face.

This case went to court as the nursery owner’s actions were witnessed and reported to police by council officials who happened to be visiting the nursery.  Dare we wonder how many children are being treated in this way in the privacy of their own homes by parents who know no better and/or believe their actions to be in line with current-day childcare practice?

Harm to Children?

Another serious worry – and one that really needs to be researched – is the question relating to young children being used in these programmes.  How ethical is it to film children in this way, and is there any possible psychological harm caused to children and their families when exposed in such a negative way on national television? 

Do families really know what they are letting themselves in for?  The concept of these programmes primarily is to show what a poor job parents are doing when faced with their child/ren’s challenging behaviour and how easy it is, even by a stranger, to end the unacceptable behaviour and transform these children into well behaved, never to offend again individuals.

A Role for Qualified Staff

If television companies remain to be convinced that there is an audience for these programmes, (and there is no denying their current viewing figures), then why don’t they front these programmes with suitably qualified people?  They wouldn’t dream of portraying policemen, doctors, or physicians by people who were not trained in that particular area, yet they are happy to front childcare programmes with non-qualified presenters. 

There are thousands of qualified, highly trained, experienced nannies in the UK (training that is considered second to none), who would be only too pleased to pass on their knowledge and expertise in a reassuring manner, enlightening parents, offering them practical advice and support in a way that would leave them feeling empowered with the knowledge that, if it doesn’t work for them, there’s always something else to try or someone else to contact, putting them in touch with local children and family services. 

Perhaps childcare knowledge isn’t what’s needed, perhaps it’s more to do with how photogenic you are, how big an ego you have and how controversial you’re prepared to be on camera – good telly!

Tricia Pritchard is the Senior Professional Officer of the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses. We are grateful to PAT/PANN for permission to reprint this article, which first appeared in their association magazine, the Professional.

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