Thursday, May 14, 2009

Talking Back to the Media - Critiquing messages to mums

Here is an example of what really gets my goat. Nearly every day there are stories in the newspapers starting with 'Reports from studies show...' that are addressed to parents. This piece goes for the sensational, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The terms 'abusive and harsh' are pretty subjective and many would say the Supernanny method isn't either of these. What type of discipline did the other mothers use? More stern or no discipline? And how do they define a 'warm and sensitive relationship' - where does that fit in the positive parenting programs? Are there other reasons why mothers are stressed and depressed? Are the children too young to test if the method works? Did their behaviour improve even though the mothers were still stressed? Is it normal for children to be aggressive and defiant at age two?
And, oh yes, it works for high-risk, struggling families but there is no further comment on that.

The program reduced unrealisic developmental expectations and harsh parenting (smacking and yelling). It was successful for the more high risk families (how are they defined?). So, by whose definition is the program a failure??

The headline could have been: Positive Parenting Programs Helps High Risk Families. Instead the message is: Small children behave badly and you'll be stressed - there is nothing you can do about it!

Oh, and the article was originaly run in The Sydney Morning Herald on 10.02.08, so it isn't even recent news! Although in that article there was mention of the consequences if mothers get it wrong. 'Left untreated, up to 50 per cent of behavioural problems in preschool children develop into mental health problems.'
Great. And it ended with a quote. 'But University of Queensland professor Matt Sanders , founder of the widely-used Positive Parenting Program, disagreed with the finding, saying there was plenty of evidence that universal parenting programs were effective.'

Over-nannying tots far from super

  • Louise Hall
  • April 27, 2009

"positive parenting" programs

Infants subjected to Supernanny-style parenting end up behaving just as badly at two years old as other children, Australian researchers say.

And mothers who use methods such as the "naughty chair" and "quiet time", advocated by Supernanny's child-raising expert Jo Frost, are just as stressed as other women, although less likely to use harsh or abusive parenting methods.

In TV's top-rating Supernanny, Frost helps families with uncontrollable or excessively naughty children to instil discipline and order.

A trial of 700 mothers at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne found there was little worth in introducing "positive parenting" programs - intensive two-hour sessions involving a nurse and childhood experts - on a wide scale. But researcher Harriet Hiscock said such sessions did work for high-risk families already struggling to cope with behavioural problems.

Dr Hiscock said the study was designed to examine if getting in early and targeting all socio-economic groups would prevent behavioural problems from developing in children.

The report, published in the British Medical Journal, found that toddlers whose mothers did the program were just as defiant and aggressive at two, and their mothers experienced the same levels of anxiety and depression, as those who did not take part.

The trial did not go beyond the age of two.

In the trial, the mothers of half the children were allowed to bring them up as they thought best. The other half attended group sessions at eight, 12 and 15 months and were taught how best to develop a "warm and sensitive relationship" with their toddler.

Advice included abandoning smacking and yelling in favour of ignoring or distracting a misbehaving child, and praising children when they did something right rather than punishing for wrongdoing.

While the program helped reduce unreasonable developmental expectations of children, and harsh parenting, children's behaviour and maternal mental health were no different from the control group.

Source: The Age

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