by DR KAREN BROOKS
Since when does bad parenting make good television?
The answer is ever since programs such as The World’s Strictest Parents, Supernanny, John and Kate Plus 8, Dance Moms, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Toddlers and Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo have rated through the roof.
By “good” I don’t mean to imply quality – on the contrary, quite the opposite.
The market for “trash” and/or “extreme parenting” appears to be growing.
Whether it is stage mums teaching toddlers inappropriate sexual moves matched only by their tacky costumes, fake tans and false teeth; parents giving kids stimulants such as “go-go juice” so they perform; or stories about “problem” teenagers who lack discipline but still have access to drugs, alcohol and/or sex, there’s no shortage of people volunteering their families so their lives can be streamed for consumption.
Alyssa Rosenberg, in Slate magazine, describes these shows as “human disaster porn” and claims “demand is, sadly, matched by an endless supply of parents willing to expose themselves and their children in the hopes that their genius will be recognised, or in the savvier calculation that toughing out ridicule may be worth the financial payout”.
But bad parents have long been the staple of psychobabble afternoon shows, such as Dr Phil.
Often described as “documentaries”, reality shows are nothing but plain exploitation – mostly of children who aren’t old enough to understand the long-term consequences of the highly problematic exposure they’re receiving.
Parents are expected to protect children from public approbation, not use it for their gain.
Audiences aren’t off the hook either.
If demand were not there, as Rosenberg suggests, supply would quickly dry up.
But with more bad-parenting shows in production, and being cheap to make, that’s unlikely to happen.