I’ve recorded my children behaving badly on many occasions.
I once filmed my son’s red-faced, tear-streaked meltdown when I asked him to . . . wait for it . . . eat a homemade meatball (it was delicious). I recorded another’s eardrum breaking freak-out while he was strapped into and straining to get out of his car seat (so he could kill me). I shared these videos with exactly two people—my husband and my mother. It was my way of saying: “You have no idea what a monster I deal with on a daily basis.”
I viewed these and other similar videos as private moments to laugh at years down the road or as something I could use to blackmail the kids later in life (“Take that ridiculous outfit off or I’ll post the damned meatball video!”). But now it appears there’s fame and fortune to be gained by letting everyone see your little monster’s freak flag fly.
Discovery Family announced recently that it would be creating a new show called Babies Behaving Badly. According to the channel’s promotional materials, the show aims to “showcase the most captivating, cheeky and hilarious child behavior on the internet.” Calling these outbursts “mischievous moments,” the show certainly aims to downplay the reality of what’s being captured by mommy and daddy’s smartphones: disobedient children and hapless parents.
Of course, charming moments are captured as well. Some of the videos showed genuinely cute interactions such as when one little girl protested the fact that her mom is married to her intended—her dad. Another video captured an oddly articulate child—who refers to his mom by her first name, Linda—trying to convince her that cupcakes will make a fine dinner. Yet, there are also tantrums and lying and the destroying of property (painting a toilet bowl) that make one wonder why in the heck the parents are filming instead of dealing with the incident happening on the other side of their smartphone screens.
This type of show raises so many worthy questions: What’s the appeal of such television shows? Why do people tune in? Isn’t it enough to experience this personally? Why would people want to witness other children’s tantrums? More importantly, do shows like this glorify or encourage children’s bad behavior? Do we no longer consider children’s bad behavior—yelling, screaming, lying, and destroying property—a problem or is it now just another source of entertainment?
There’s nothing new about this type of show. The very popular Wife Swap and Nanny 911 put on display—in the same voyeuristic fashion—the utterly bizarre behaviors of certain families. These shows made short-term celebrities of parents incapable of creating stability and structure in the home, people who were unwilling to set limits and explain the consequences of bad behaviors, and who were powerless to control their troubled kids. Watching episodes of these shows, one can’t help but wonder why the people featured ever agreed to have their parenting failures displayed for all to see. Of course, they can brag that they got on television. There’s that.
The popularity of these shows might also, counterintuitively, be an outgrowth of people’s increased use of social media platforms. On Facebook and Instagram, people post idealized pictures of well-behaved, serene children and provide followers with glimpses of their perfect, well-ordered lives. Most of us create an online existence that is so removed from reality, so clean and flawless and devoid of all of life’s normal ugliness, perhaps it’s no wonder that these programs—showing the gritty underbelly of parenting in all its hideousness—are so popular.
Yet shows like Babies Behaving Badly invite us all to become the nosy neighbor and to wag our superior finger at those incapable of controlling their children. It invites judgment and cruel gawking at children who have no say in being filmed for the world to see.
In other words, shows like this ensure we too behave badly when we tune in.