Have you seen this television show on CMT? “World’s Strictest Parents”? Let me break it down for you. One male and one female teenager who are undisciplined, foul-mouthed, lawless, many times violent, occasionally substance-addicted, narcissistic, and always horrible are sent to live with a real family. Let me clarify, a militaristic, Orwellian, Mormanesque family on their compound in rural Idaho. It’s usually a working ranch with quiet, obedient kids who don’t wear make-up, don’t have cool haircuts, don’t attend rock concerts, and have the personalities of unflavored yogurt.
Enter the Flannery’s. I have three teenagers and my wife of 22 years and I are quite probably the least strict parents I have ever met. We allow them to go on road-trips, sleepovers on school nights, rock concerts, we’re even letting our 13-year-old go to China this summer. They can play video games, eat at 3 o’clock in the morning, play on the computer, talk on the phone, pretty much whatever. They can speak their minds, listen to whatever music they like, choose their own friends, voice their opinions, and attend the church of their choice. Really the only restrictions that we impose are that they keep themselves healthy and clean, and let us know where they’re at, you know check in. We ask that they make school important and give it their best shot. Also they have to work to earn the money to buy their own stylized clothes, hair care products, gas money, accessories, and food when eating-out with friends. We have open dialogue with them in which we praise their accomplishments and positive behaviors and ask them to consider and think through the possible outcomes for any negative behaviors. We set the example for them by being in love, communicating, getting out of bed and going to work, and making each day a bold and daring adventure.
I imagined a scene of “World’s Strictest Parents” featuring my oldest kids, Dylan and Brenna Flannery. It goes something like this.
WSP: Welcome to our family, I’m Abraham, this is my wife, Gretta, and our children, Josiah and Rebekkah.
My Kids: Hi, it’s nice to meet you!
WSP: First things first, give all your drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes to us now.
My Kids: Sir, we don’t do drugs, we didn’t bring any alcohol, and we don’t smoke.
WSP: Oh…, well then give us your cellphones.
My Kids: Sure, here you go, Sir. (they hand over phones)
WSP: Hmm, that was easy. Well you’ll have chores you have to do here, shovelling, sweeping, cleaning, and washing animals. I won’t take any bad attitudes either. As you accomplish the chores you’ll be given privliges, if you don’t you’ll suffer the consequences.
My Kids: No problem, Sir, whatever you say.
Brenna: Hey Rebekkah, after we finish these chores I thought of a totally cute way to do your hair, and I can show you how to make your eyes stand out, they’re really pretty!
Dylan: Hey Josiah, after we knock out these chores I’ll show you how to play guitar and then……..
Director: CUT!!!!!!!!!! THIS SHOW IS CANCELLED!!!!!!
This show is based on the premise that kids need to be broken down by discipline and tied to the mast so they grow straight. This is ridiculous! Kids need to feel their family unit is rock-solid. And that they are valued as important members of that family. They need to be listened to and loved and appreciated. Every step of their maturity that leads to independence needs to be celebrated. I understand a stark juxtaposition of opposites is key for a reality-television show to work but it just isn’t that way in reality.