Thursday, September 4, 2008

Respecting short people

I'm in the middle of a shaming and coercion fest here -- Sam's out at a movie with his sister, so I'm taking the opportunity to veg out in front of the TV while Mikko starts his nighttime sleep, periodically racing back to soothe the screaming child when he awakens. (Seriously, he sounds like his legs are being ripped off if we wakes up without a boob in his mouth or has to pee. He's got more than a touch of the dramatic about him.)

I tuned in to Nanny 911 because I had seen Supernanny with Jo Frost before but not this alternate version. I used to enjoy watching Supernanny with my mom while visiting until I read a bit more about discipline and why being rude and capricious with your children just because you have all the power is not necessarily the beautiful thing these nanny shows make it out to be. (See my post on Unconditional ParentingUnconditional Parenting for Alfie Kohn's insight into the good type of discipline.)

The nannies sent to convert the children from hellions into controlled little angels make a big deal in one episode about forcing a 2-year-old to sleep in his own bed at night alone, and in another about making another 2-year-old give up bottles. I couldn't help but think that these were babies, and no one suggested taking this frightened infant into the parents' bed or to the mother's breast for comfort. The nannies just shake their heads at the parents' lack of fortitude in listening to their young ones scream, and I wanted to yell encouragement at the parents to give in to their instincts that ignoring their children's needs cannot be a good thing.

Of course, time outs, rule books, and chore charts are a big factor in these nanny shows, because naturally the point of parenting is to coerce children into being convenient for you. At one point, the nanny gets into a duel with a 3-year-old and takes all his toys away since he won't sit on his time-out mat. I couldn't help wonder who was being more childish, and I also felt bad for these kids being made to feel like subpar people (yes, people-- albeit miniature ones -- with feelings and frustrations, a point often lost in our national cult of authoritarianism) on national TV.

When the Nanny 911 rerun gave way to The 700 Club hawking John McCain, I switched over to The Principal's Office, a new reality (It's not reality. It's actuality.) show on TruTV, offering, as can be inferred, a day in the life of a principal's office. I got to muse on our intentions to unschool/homeschool Mikko (!) and how I'm so glad he doesn't need to be exposed to the kind of disrespectful, students-are-always-wrong attitude of modern U.S. public schools. I was a "good" kid at school, and I still ran into that attitude, which seemed so limiting to me in high school after having transferred from a junior high school in Berlin that granted us freedom and trust. We had to ask permission for the slightest privileges at my high schools (I went to two for two years each), such as using the restroom (I know that doesn't seem shocking to anyone who's been through the school system, but shouldn't it?), and the time in between classes was cut from 4 minutes to 3 minutes to deter loitering. Three minutes! As a new student, I barely had enough time to race from one class to another as I tried to decipher the map on the back of the guidebook the school had issued each student, a helpful tome complete with dress codes and behavioral limits.

I once needed to use the payphone to ask my mother for a ride home, since I would be staying late for an extracurricular activity (something wholesome and educational, not detention or to deal pot, as the authority figures seemed to assume), and I went up to the vice principal, who was the monitor for our 20-minute lunch period that hardly gave us enough time to stand in line, then wolf down our questionable meal. I said, "Could I use the payphone to call my mother?" Vice principal: Big sigh, and a pause. Then, "I am your father at this school. What would you say to your father?" Hmmm...Dad, can I have a ride home? And could I have 20 dollars? Where are we going with this? I guess my blank stare convinced him I needed more edumacating, because he filled me in that I needed to include the magic word. Because "could I use the payphone," said in a polite and respectful tone of voice, without the word "please" shoehorned in, was apparently akin to saying, "Yo, pops, lend me a dime. Gotta call my old lady." My dad was never so close-minded and pedantic. I know my father, and you, sir, are not my father.

Anyway, when watching other students get reamed and reminiscing about my high-school injustices got tiresome, I moved on to Tabatha's Salon Takeover on Bravo. What with my wailing offspring, I didn't get to see enough of an episode to draw conclusions, but at first glance all the shirking, bad-mouthing salon workers seemed to deserve Tabatha's hard-nosed correction. But maybe that's because these people have been raised in the Nanny 911 to The Principal's Office school of life. When you're taught to be disrespectful, you grow up to be -- gasp -- disrespectful.


Wilderness Mama said...

I love your post! I so agree with everything you said, and I love your sense of humor. :)

Lauren Wayne said...

Thanks! :D

I'm glad to find a new like-minded blogging friend, and I've been enjoying getting to know your site. It's so fun to find a community out there.

Jenny said...

We were treated like this in high school as well, and it sucked. One time I forgot to bring some materials for a project, and I needed to call my dad to see if he could drop them off for me. I had a quarter, so I walked over and began to use the phone in the hallway. The vice principal ran over and said "you can't use that phone right now!" (It was like you couldn't use it while class was in session, or between classes, or some stupid thing.) I had to explain that my call was time-sensitive and finally he let me make it. It only took a minute. And then there was another time when one of the teachers made me tromp through the muddy courtyard to get where I was going because students "weren't allowed" through the hallway during lunch. And I was wearing really cute shoes that day, too. Sort of unbelievable all the stupid crap I had to put up with in school, and no, I have not grown to appreciate it over the years. All it's taught me is that public school is no place for a child, if you want your child treated like a person. They assume that all children are constantly up to no good and must never be trusted. It's probably why so many kids can't succeed in college, when they suddenly have no one to supervise them.

nerdmafia said...

this one definitely has me thinking...i'm a full-time nanny myself (my girls are 3 1/2 & 2yrs old & i've been with this family since the big one was 4mos old), so i thought i was about to read this post and get my feelings hurt. i was relieved to find it wasn't an attack on nannies, but an indictment of the televised notion that 1) children are a commodity to be controlled as the t.v. nannies see fit, and 2) children don't have valid thoughts and feelings if they do not perfectly match with the adults in charge.

i can't tell you how much i do enjoy (is enjoy really the right word? appreciate maybe...) supernanny jo frost. i have, however, also seen the nanny 911 ladies in action, and was more than a little bit horrified at their tactics. the thing i like (most of the time) about jo frost on supernanny is that she's not so much "training" the children as she is teaching the adults (who are clearly not attachment-oriented parents) to actually function as adults and parents within their own households/families. i strongly believe that when children are misbehaving (name calling, swearing, hitting/hurting others, destroying things, blatantly disrespecting their parents/others), it's either because they've seen the adults in their lives do these things and model that behavior back, have been disrespected in these ways by adults and so view it as acceptable, or have learned through their parents' reactions/inaction that escalatingly bad behavior is a good way to get their parents' attention (be it positive or negative, at least someone is focused on them in that moment). so for all the "naughty spot" time-outs, it's a process for the children to learn that such behavior towards their parents, their siblings, or their home/environment is not acceptable and WHY it's not okay. more importantly though, while supernanny is teaching the parents these discipline techniques, she is also showing/teaching the parents WHY their children are exhibiting such behavior and laying the blame squarely at the parents' feet. in almost every case it's that the parents don't spend any time with their kids, and when they do they are actively ignoring their childrens' needs in favor of the needs of the adults in the house. jojo often stresses the importance of building strong, loving, trusting relationships with the children while they're at this critical, very young stage because there may be serious consequences for that relationship (and possibly for their childrens' other relationships later in life) if they don't.

so, from a nanny's perspective, i just wanted to point out what i find to be the very big difference between supernanny jo frost and the incredibly inappropriate nannies of nanny 911.

on another note, absolutely everything you said about high schools was 100% spot on. i'm fascinated by the idea of home schooling/un-schooling, and what un-schooling really means to you and the other parents who practice it. and what it means to your children. my 3yr old goes to a very progressive, child-centric pre-school, but may be switching to a very rigid french immersion school next year (a place where i have seen staff literally get upset when a child colors outside the lines). my heart breaks at the thought of someone trying to tame my sweet little free range baby and fit her into a one-size-fits-all personality box. :-(

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