While each successive era’s ideas about motherhood have had a political and economic dimension, the proliferation of parenting manuals and programmes such as Supernanny signals something else: a moral panic over parenting that feeds into the narrative of “broken Britain”, in which “faulty” parenting is the cause of everything from obesity to educational failure and even divorce. Jensen says: “It’s a very common narrative that we’re going through a parenting crisis. There’s a lot of nostalgia in there – that our parents knew how to parent us, and that our grandparents knew how to parent them,” even though all the evidence suggests that parents today spend more time with their children and are more attentive to them than previous generations. Leaving children unsupervised – standard practice in the 1960s – is now seen as evidence of neglect.
Of course the parenting advice industry has not just ideas, but products to sell – you can actually buy a naughty step, aka a Time Out Pad, solving parenting dilemmas by shopping. But even if you strive to resist their messages, contends Jensen, programmes such as Supernanny create a system of self-surveillance in which mothers scrutinise their every decision, thereby generating yet more anxiety.
From “Mothers on the naughty step: the growth of the parenting advice era” by Anne Karpf in The Guardian.