My eldest child recently turned 13 and as I contemplate the drama of the teenage years that lie ahead of me, I am currently examining my own parenting style, in particular how it can be best adapted to this notoriously difficult period. It has not escaped my attention that parenting styles have changed significantly over the years. The olden days of “belt and stick” being replaced with a more caring and compassionate doctrine, trying to get behind the reasons for acting out rather than confronting them head on. I have watched this progression with interest and probably a tinge of regret but hey we all have to move with the times (silently puts on his “Make Parenting Great Again” cap).
As my family grew larger and more Von Trap-like, I recalled that glorious scene in the Sound of Music where Captain Von Trap introduces his children to their new nanny by means of a whistle. I’m not sure why this particular scene from the movie was embedded in my psyche but I thought it was the very pinnacle of parenting 101. Apparently not, and I was horrified to find this was an example of how not to do it, but cutting down curtains for dresses was to be applauded, now that’s horrific!
My first foray into parenthood coincided with the emergence of television shows like Super-nanny, which led to an outbreak of children across the nation being put on timeouts and brought to the naughty step. I briefly tried to put my children on the naughty step but the problem was that they just kept running away from the damn thing and going off to play with their toys upstairs. Invariably this would lead to a harsher sentence of more time on the naughty step and a befuddled conversation with my wife, “how much longer is X supposed to be on the naughty step for?”, “hmmm I think he’s got another 17 hours to go but I’m not sure if that includes toilet breaks or not”. In the end all four of my kids just started hanging out and fighting by the naughty step which kind of defeated the purpose.
Those of you who know me will not be surprised to hear that it is once again to television that I have turned for my latest inspiration with regards to my parenting style. I present to you Ultimate Hell Week, the reality show where ordinary members of the public (or more recently “celebrities”) are put through a gruelling series of tasks by an elite army ranger crew, all while being sleep-deprived and malnourished. I have long been a fan of this show, principally because it brings back many memories of living with a newborn!
Central to the whole process are the DS or “Directing Staff”, they rule over the participants with an iron fist giving instructions that must be obeyed immediately and without question (actually this is harking back to Captain Von Trap but let’s forget about that). Any non-adherence is usually punished by a series of physical tasks, such as push-ups, uphill sprints or my personal favourite, crawling around on the floor through whatever rubbish was not cleared away after meal time. While they do not quite reach the level of sadism shown by drill sergeants in movies like Full Metal Jacket (I mean they never physically hit any of the participants, at least not on camera), they are not far off it. An example of a typical interaction during an inspection of the participants’ sleeping quarters would be as follows “Oh so you didn’t clean your area properly, well let’s strip down to your underwear and go down to the ice-cold basement plunge pool and see if you remember to do it correctly the next time”. I can definitely see this working with my boys, god knows nothing else has. Time for me to start digging a trench in the back garden!
Of course it is not all about the stick and punishment with the DS. They do occasionally show a softer side, like when they interrogate a participant (complete with a switch from black-out hood to bright lights) to such an extent that the participants inevitably burst into tears before they tell them “you’re actually doing quite well”. The other area where they show a less authoritarian side is when a participant finally caves in to the unrelenting misery of their tasks and throws in the towel by removing their arm band. At this point the DS will smile, shake the participant’s hand (this hand will already be shaking due to the hypothermia) and wish them well on their way back to the nearby ambulance. I see myself in a similar position when my kids move out of the house at some point in the future (hopefully without the ambulance).
Another “innovative step” on Ultimate Hell Week is that everyone is only referred to by their number (I think they got this brilliant idea from Jean Valjean in Les Mis or as I like to call him 24601 but I could be mistaken). Next week I will enforce this with my own children but I can’t call any of them number 1 as this will cause bitterness and resentment and that’s just from me!