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Ever since Mary Poppins flew in on her umbrella, Americans have believed in the magical powers of British nannies. Unruly, uncouth brats merely need to receive a stern rebuke in an English accent, whereupon they become docile, mannerly, lovely, and decent. Or at least that’s the myth, the latest incarnation of which can be found in Jo Frost of ABC’s reality television show, Supernanny .

In today’s On the Square feature, Natalie Stilwell champions the series as a means of showing how the natural law (and order) can be brought to the family:

How many parents with multiple children have the chance to see a family counselor or read parenting books? Sadly, many parents in America come from broken homes themselves and do not have readily available models for effective and happy parenting. These nanny television shows pack a serious dose of effective family management into a single hour.

In rebuttal, Meghan Duk e takes issue with the freakshow gawking at bad parenting:
Some viewers may earnestly cheer on the floundering families on SuperNanny and come away with helpful child-rearing advice, but I suspect most simply pause in their channel surfing to watch, out of sick curiosity, these domestic disasters just as they would slow down on the highway to gawk at a car accident.

I side with Meghan but for a very different reason. My problem with the show is Ms. Frost’s methodology. She treats the knee-high heathens as if they were rational moral beings who can be persuaded by reasoned discourse. She acts as if they merely need time to sit quietly and think about their actions before they will recognize the error of their evil ways and begin to act like civilized folk. For some children, of course, this is true. For others (i.e., boys) the discriminate use of spanking (or as we say in Texas, whooping) is a disciplinary necessity.

The SuperNanny, however, considers spanking to be a practice so barbaric that it shouldn’t be used even on actual barbarians (i.e., boys). This “spare the rod” principle if fine in theory—and on television. But when a child doesn’t have a camerman standing over them while they do penance in the “naughty spot” they aren’t likely to respond in quite the same way. Like many parents, I am leery of taking advice from childless professionals just because they have TV show. The realities of real-world parenting—where you don’t get to move on at the end of the episode—change the dynamic considerably, and in a way that is much messier. There is, after all, a reason the show is called Super Nanny and not Super Mommy.

Where do you stand on the SuperNanny issue? Are you on the side of Ms. Frost and her new-fangled talk-and-time-out methods or do you stand with us old school “No Rod Spared” throwbacks?

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