THE MEDIA LOVES A GOOD TANTRUM.
Shows like “Supernanny” and “The House of Tiny Tearaways” thrive on screaming toddlers, the louder the better, and preferably involving kicking, swearing, throwing hard objects, and smashing the family china.
Recently, “Dr Phil” aired a show in America about an eight-year-old out-of-control child, complete with glaring promotion video announcing, “My Head-Butting, Punching, Kicking, Bruising, Biting, Knife-Wielding 8-Year-Old!!” If you didn’t see it, there’s a link to it here. Granted the child has issues, and major ones at that, but the video goes to great lengths to portray the child as the devil incarnate.
There’s a woman in America who writes a blog that I’ve mentioned before called myfamilymyvillage. She is a prolific writer and sometimes adds more than one post a day documenting her day-to-day struggles with her own eight-year-old son who has been diagnosed amongst other things with conduct disorder. I follow her blog, sometimes with almost obsessional interest, because, I suppose I’m trying to find clues about where things might be falling apart for her. I do the same with my own life and my own struggles with my own son – as if by picking our lives apart to some microscopic extent, I might find the answer and everything will be okay.
However, just the other day, the above-mentioned woman allowed the media into her life by conducting an interview for a radio programme in America called “This American Life.” The episode itself is titled “Bad Baby” and includes three or four segments devoted to stories about troubled children. You can listen to the podcast here. I finally had a chance to listen to the broadcast this evening and paid particular attention to the prologue which focused on this woman’s story. Considering the proliferation of her blog writing, and having studied mass communication at college and how it can manipulate an audience through editing, I was particularly interested in how a 10-minute segment would portray her son’s condition.
I was incredibly disappointed and shocked to listen to the segment. In my opinion, this woman’s child was portrayed as little short of a sadistic, manipulative, cold and evil predator. Obviously ten minutes wasn’t long enough to include context or any mitigating factors, nor was there any discussion of any times when this eight-year-old boy may have made her smile or laugh or loving towards him. Yet they are mentioned in her blog. I was moved by the programme, less by the shock value message it sent out about this child than by the intense sadness I felt for this child. It was as if his mother had thrown in the towel, and with it any future chance for redemption.
This was the very reason that I have never allowed my own situation with my son to go public in the media despite being approached in previous years to do a show. In her defence, I am aware, painfully aware, how frustrating it is to be a mother to child with conduct disorder. It is frightening at times. More so once you start to recognise the sinister nature of the behaviours, the lack of empathy, the constant manipulation, the lack of remorse for injuries caused, and the lack of emotional connection between action and harm. But I still feel wholeheartedly that it is my job to protect my child; so to allow the media to portray him in a negative light, in my opinion, would ultimately do more harm than good.
In addition, the short segment of the programme in which this woman spoke gave the impression that her child’s negative behaviour was completely unconnected to anything she or other family members did themselves. The narrator offers a brief overview of how she and her husband attempt to placate their eldest child when he “acts up”. There is talk of “using an even tone of voice” and withdrawing rewards as if these are their “go-to” methods used most frequently, if not exclusively. But she openly admits in many of her blog posts that she has lost control of herself: shouts, physically restrains him, manhandles him, and she even mentions a time when she joined in a “slap fest” between him and his younger brother. I won’t judge her for her actions. God knows I’ve been at the end of my rope on more than one occasion myself. But at least I own my mistakes. Perhaps too much. Few people who know me or listen to me could say that I don’t take full responsibility for the way my son behaves. If anything, I have to be convinced to the nth degree to see that some things he does are outside my control.
So in my world, despite everything, I won’t be appearing on Jeremy Kyle or Oprah or Radio 4 any time soon.
And Supernanny will have to wait.
Oh, and for the record, I posted a very lengthy comment to one of her recent posts here. I will be astonished if she responds kindly to it, or even publishes it for that matter. If not, I’ll put it in my next post.
© Alice through the Macro Lens