Nanny knows best
"Supernanny" Jo Frost brings her no-nonsense expertise to Hawaii
OH, help us, Obi-wan nanny, you're our only hope! The kids are running amok!
Episode filmed in Hawaii:
On TV: 8 tonight
Tonight, "Supernanny" Jo Frost ditches her sensible dark nannywear for an aloha shirt and swoops into Hawaii to counsel a family on child-rearing. In this case it's a couple of obviously bright but apparently clueless marine biologists based in Honolulu*
with out-of-control little boys.
You know the drill by now -- "Supernanny," an American spinoff of a very popular English programme, has legions of viewers and its own spinoffs -- and it goes like this: well-meaning parents have crazed kids, Frost drops in and observes, comes up with (in retrospect) commonsense solutions, everybody learns something positive, on to the next family.
In the pressure pot of prime-time reality, "Supernanny" has become required viewing for young parents and Frost something of a godsend for the well-meaning but clueless.
On the eve of the broadcast of her Hawaii experience, Frost took time to answer some questions. She was in Chicago, catching a breath between hair-raising nanny missions. In case you're wondering, Frost herself had a most "pleasant and supportive" childhood growing up in urban London and worked as a "real" nanny for more than a decade before playing one on TV.
"It was fantastic in Hawaii," she recalled. The episode is set in Honolulu*, where "there's much tranquility, it's a very sacred island and I adore the people. There are some places you travel to, and you know you'll never be back. But Hawaii -- I'll be back!
"The family that I was helping were not a native Hawaiian family. Marine biologists, an older couple who had two children, two boys and really wanting some good, sound advice, even thought they were very educated in their field and very savvy with what they needed to do. They took great direction and followed through.
"Without giving away too much, I did a technique that I've never done before, should I say, in this environment."
To begin: The family had a nightly ritual -- "They have a before-bedtime little thing that they like to do; they like to go frog-hunting, which I found absolutely amusing, very, very funny."
Hold it right there. Chasing frogs before bedtime? Wouldn't that get the kids revved up like tops?
"Yes, it did!" Frost laughed delightedly. "Needless to say, what a wonderful gesture, just at the wrong time of the day!"
As folks say, it takes a village to raise a child. But in such a mobile society, parents are moving away from the village and those support systems. Things change.
"It's not necessarily a harder time now," said Frost. "It's just that we're just more aware of it now, and perhaps we're more vocal than perhaps we were 20 years ago. It's a struggle to make enough money to keep one's head above water. That's immense pressure on a parent, both inside and outside the family."
"But it's also true that the world has become a smaller place. One can move out of state, and you can explore the world and go to different places, but technology has brought us closer together and made us able to research things, even though we're more mobile than we were before.
"But it's true and you can tell, from talking to older parents, that the sense of community is not as strong as it was. You're locking doors now. You knew your neighbors then -- there was always another pair of eyes on children playing. Your neighbors had your back. That sense of community is gone, and in its place are support groups.
"Parents also say they feel guilty when they have to discipline their children, because they're at work more and they don't get to spend as much time as they'd like with them. It's usually the parents' own issues, and that filters through to the children. We have to go back and dig up that root. Then you can go forth and teach the child values and expectations of what's right and wrong."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jo Frost, the "Supernanny," was delivered to a Honolulu home to film scenes for an episode of the ABC reality show to air tonight. The family she worked with actually lives in Honolulu.*
Can The show be a communication conduit between parents and kids?
"Language, that's important for parents -- how we explain values, how we communicate with our children. Talk with them! What we say and how it's received. Communication is the big problem with teenagers. They feel like they're not being heard or validated or even listened to."
Ever run into some truly rotten kids?
"I don't believe children are born evil," said Frost, sounding faintly horrified. "Born bad? My! A new baby is an unwritten canvas. It's what you paint on that canvas that shapes and molds them in the early years.
"It's the most serious commitment a human being will ever make, raising a child to be a happy, stable and well-adjusted adult in society.
"Families are complex and diverse and unique, but at the same time, there are problems that are universal. You can't cushion it; it's about making the best of whatever the situation is so that parents don't feel lost and out of control. Every human being can relate to that, whether you've got children or not."
"Supernanny," then, is a kind of parental counseling by example, on a scale unimagined when villages and neighborhoods began to break up?
"Our show is one of very few that empower a parent and give them positive information," said Frost, rather firmly.
"In London, 'Supernanny' is called a 'factual documentary'; here, it's a 'reality show' as if it's a quiz show or something. But it's far removed from that, and the viewers have learned it helps families who have relatable issues.
"You get what you see. It's an unscripted show. If someone cries, they're really crying. If you see me lay down the law, it's really happening. It's on the fly, it's there, it's real, it's what's really happening at the time. We're able to give a step-by-step process of how you work through it and come out the other end."
The journey is the message?
"It just takes parents who are willing to recognize that they need help. It's the bravery of these families that allows the millions of viewers to learn. And the others out there who watch, and say, 'If they can, then we can.' I love it!"