To people that know me, it is no secret that I am a reality TV enthusiast. Sad I know, but I just can’t help it. It started with Teen Mom – I had my eldest at 19 so felt I had some kind of affinity with the girls on the show. It then spiralled – Love Island to Geordie Shore. TOWIE to Made in Chelsea. I’ve watched them all at some point. My newest ‘go to’ show is called ‘Welcome to Plathville’. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a family that have made the decision to bring up their children on a 45 acre farm in Georgia in almost total seclusion from the outside world. No mobile phones, very limited access to internet, certain types of music are banned, no mixing with the opposite sex until marriage and no TV (the irony of them not allowing TV in the house but are happy to be paid by a TV company to film their children and put their lives in front of an audience is definitely not lost on me).
Their children are home-schooled but not to the curriculum content needed to get their diploma and it is clear that there is very little communication about how the world works and what the children will need to survive in the ‘real world’. I started watching this show as a bit of a ‘relax and recharge’ opportunity but the whole way of life has really resonated with me. The three placement children we have were also, it seems, kept in a very secluded bubble. Now I’m not sure if it is just lockdown 3.0 that has really started to muddle my brain but I can’t stop thinking about the consequences for these ‘Plath’ children when they leave home – if they ever do. And it has also got me thinking about the real reason they are shielding their children from the world.
One of the boys is now grown and even with a mother and 6 sisters he did not know what a period was until he got married. He was 19 before he had his first fizzy drink and he had never celebrated a single holiday except for his birthday – none of the children even knew why the 4th of July was celebrated. It has become acutely apparent over the last ten months that our new arrivals (I’m not sure when I stop calling them ‘new’?) have been affected in a very similar way. Here’s just a short list of things they had never experienced or even knew what they were: the cinema, a caravan, feeding the ducks, the button to wind the window down in the car, hot chocolate, traditional fish and chips, a taxi and a bouncy castle. This list isn’t definitive – there are plenty more things. Am I mad or is not knowing what a caravan is at 13 incredibly unusual? Maybe I just have too higher expectations… but either way these children were shielded. From society, from ‘normality’ and in my opinion, from growth.
I am not sure what the parents in the TV show are trying to achieve but, without being too judgemental and trying really hard to look at it impartially all I can see is a generation of children growing up and being completely unready and ill-prepared for the world. Dancing around bare-foot and having no access to sugar is fine when you’re six but sixteen? Is that really reflective of society? And this is where my thoughts link back to a previous blog about social interaction or academic progress, fundamentally, surely, our job as parents is to prepare our children as best we can to attack life. To succeed – in whichever way they want to.
With all of this in mind, I have gone into ‘planning’ mode. I have really been thinking about what the children need to be prepared and in particular what does the eldest child need? Because in a few short years she could be ‘doing it alone’ as such. So, I’ve started a recipe book for her, filling it with recipes she likes to cook but can’t remember how to do them – making sure I’m encouraging personal hygiene health, showing her how to use the washing machine etc. I guess basic stuff which I have been showing to my children for years but for her are a complete minefield. This is the child that came to me unable to wash her own hair as 12 because it had always been done for her. Any activities or tasks that anyone could recommend to help prepare her for the outside world would be much appreciated – I always feel like I missing things!
So, although most people mock and laugh at reality TV, my eyes have been opened with this new show. My ‘parenting’ senses have been heightened and I’ve been made to look at fostering and my approaches differently. And although I don’t agree with how the family are bringing up their children, I’ve found I’ve learnt from it – which is far more than I could have bargained for with a reality TV show!