Born naughty?

Kavita Solder reviews a Channel 4 offering.

‘Born Naughty’ followed two children, a female named Honey and a male named Theo, both of whom were exhibiting undesirable behaviour. The show began with clips of the children in their home environment and also included comments from family members about the impact of the children’s behaviour on the dynamics within their respective households. A GP and paediatrician were frequently called upon to provide a medical perspective on what they had witnessed. In this particular episode, concerns were expressed by Theo’s mother regarding his behaviour and she shared her beliefs that he may have attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). This episode followed the mother’s quest to gain a formal diagnosis. Similarly, Honey had also been displaying unacceptable behaviour to the extent that she had been permanently excluded from school. Her parents believed that Honey may be on the autistic spectrum.

In timely places, the conditions were clearly explained with language that was accessible to the public and free from technical jargon. Another positive was that the programme showed a number of professionals being involved in the decision-making process regarding a diagnosis, as there was involvement from a psychologist and speech and language therapist. This is important as some parents are often misguided and believe that with one visit from one professional they are able to get a diagnosis immediately. Whilst there was a clear medical theme throughout, it did bring to the forefront the dilemma regarding advantages and disadvantages of diagnoses and labelling. Both sets of parents had a clear rationale for wanting a diagnosis; they had been battling with the behaviours seen on screen for years and their parenting had been brought into question. In both cases, a diagnosis was seen as an explanation for why their children were behaving so differently from their peers. Arguably, the label brought no benefits to the children, other than their parents becoming more self-assured and reinvigorated in their parenting. It would have been hugely insightful to hear more from the children and gain their perceptions on the situation.

‘Born Naughty’ may be of interest to parents who share concerns over their children’s behaviour and professionals who work with children who have behavioural needs. I think the viewing could give some parents who are feeling defeated hope that behaviours are not fixed but instead, with strategy, can be altered as we see Theo and Honey’s behaviour improve over time. A behavioural approach was implemented with Theo through the use of rewards and sanctions to instil a rigid bedtime routine. A more therapeutic approach was used with Honey as she was taken to an animal therapy centre to calm her anxieties and was also given regular play therapy sessions, which the viewers were told had a positive impact on her behaviour. From a trainee educational psychologist’s perspective, it was great to see that Honey went from being permanently excluded to gaining a placement at a specialist school where, according to her mother, her needs would be catered for much better than in the mainstream system. Again, one could engage in a debate over whether a diagnosis was necessary for these steps to be taken; nevertheless, it was an engaging show which provided some relaxing midweek viewing.

- Kavita Solder is a trainee educational psychologist at the University of Exeter.

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