TV Nannies Offer A Spoonful Of Schadenfreude What's the appeal of watching another family's meltdown? For starters, it's knowing that your kids aren't the worst ones on the block.
NPR logo

TV Nannies Offer A Spoonful Of Schadenfreude

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96964911/97383747" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
TV Nannies Offer A Spoonful Of Schadenfreude

TV Nannies Offer A Spoonful Of Schadenfreude

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96964911/97383747" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

You would think that the last thing that most parents need in their lives is more misbehaved children. Yet people do watch TV shows like "Supernanny." A British nanny dispenses advice to some pretty desperate American parents. NPR's Elizabeth Blair takes a look at what viewers get out of watching other people's screaming kids.

(Soundbite of TV show "Nanny 911")

Unidentified Announcer: They're every parent's worst nightmare.

Unidentified Man #1: Enough already. I told you to stop complaining.

(Soundbite of children screaming)

Unidentified Announcer: Kids completely out of control and...

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Kids out of control and parents totally unhinged. That's what millions of people see when they tune into the shows "Supernanny" and "Nanny 911." Here's the concept - a family living in chaos is observed by a seasoned British nanny.

(Soundbite of TV show "Supernanny")

Ms. JO FROST (British Celebrity Nanny): Mum was holding the door to keep Tori(ph) in. But then little Tommy(ph) would come out. And then she'd go and put little Tommy back, and Tori had come out.

Unidentified Woman: Close it.

BLAIR: The nanny figures out what the parents are doing wrong, and trains them in techniques to make things better. So, what is the appeal of watching another family's meltdown? Let's get a professional opinion from a nanny at the playground.

I mean, why do you watch it?

Ms. MARLENE TAYLOR (Nanny): I look at it because I want to see how the American people deal with their children.

BLAIR: Sitting on a park bench with her two little charges, Marlene Taylor is a nanny in Washington, D.C.

Ms. TAYLOR: I'm from the islands, and I think here the parents are too lax. Sometimes we wonder why they have kids. I'm being honest with you. You know, because when you see what the children do to the parents, it's like I can't believe, I can't believe.

(Soundbite of TV show "Supernanny")

Unidentified Woman: No biting. Do you hear me?

Ms. CARRIE KIRBY (Blogger, The Chicago Moms Blog): Oh, yeah, I watch it. And my husband thinks I'm crazy for wanting to put it on.

BLAIR: Carrie Kirby is representative of a huge part of the audience for nanny TV shows, the mom. She's a big fan of "Supernanny's" Jo Frost on ABC. She also writes a Chicago moms' blog. Kirby says she learns a lot by peering into another family's dirty laundry.

Ms. KIRBY: It's almost like a free parenting class. I mean, I have learned some useful things from it. You know, she does a timeout technique almost every episode.

(Soundbite of TV show "Supernanny")

Ms. FROST: Explain.

Unidentified Man #2: Look at me.

Ms. FROST: Just talk.

BLAIR: Like a coach training an athlete, here's Jo Frost working with a dad as he tries to keep his little girl on the naughty step.

Unidentified Man #2: You'll get off the step when you learn how to share with Tommy, do you understand?

Ms. FROST: Now, what is it that she did wrong?

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, you were screaming and you wanted to take everything.

Ms. FROST: That's why you're on this step.

Unidentified Man #2: That's why you're on the step.

Ms. KIRBY: It's like a cautionary tale. You know, some of the parenting things - I already knew I should be doing this, I should be firm about that. But when you see how bad it can be if you don't do these things, then it really gets you to do them.

BLAIR: But Kirby says the best part about watching "Supernanny"...

Ms. KIRBY: Is just reassurance that my kids are not nearly as bad as some of the other kids out there and my parenting skills are not as bad as some of those parents.

BLAIR: Nothing like feeling a little pleasure in someone else's pain. But let's get clinical. Kimberly Bell is a clinic associate at the Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development in Cleveland.

Dr. KIMBERLY BELL (Clinic Associate, Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development in Cleveland): You know, maybe I'll have a parent session, and the parent will say, oh, did you see "Nanny 911" last night?

BLAIR: Dr. Bell is concerned that these shows make dealing with the inner psyche of a child look easy.

Dr. BELL: You know, you're not just seeing children that are out of control. You're seeing children that are in a great deal of emotional pain. So parents want that to stop. And so anytime they're given a technique, they really want that quick fix.

BLAIR: But "Supernanny" Jo Frost says there is nothing quick or easy about the process the families go through.

Ms. FROST: I really do salute their courage because, you know, without those families, they wouldn't have helped the millions of people that have received that help. So, you know, really the thank you is to those families.

(Soundbite of TV show "Supernanny")

Unidentified child: I think we'll be a really happy family soon.

BLAIR: After all, on these nanny TV shows, a family's rawest moments are on display. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And you can watch a video of "Supernanny" Jo Frost explaining the principles of the naughty step at our Web site, npr.org.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.