My husband Terry and I are the proud parents of three children, Quinn, Garrett, and Keeley. Last year, we were approached to be a host family on the CMT’s reality show, The World’s Strictest Parents. We hesitated. We are just regular people who shuttle between school recitals, sporting events, and the usual 21st century family commitments. We wondered why we were asked to share our “sensibly strict” parenting style. Before we said yes, we considered the scenario, the interaction with our family and whether we felt we could make a difference.
Ultimately, we agreed to take in two unruly teens who would live with us for one week.
Welcome Gina, a 16-year-old from Atlanta and Taylor, a 15-year-old from Orlando. We knew nothing about them prior to their arrival but quickly discovered that they were disrespectful to their parents, lacked focus with academics, and had made poor choices in the past.
We began with the house rules: No smoking, no alcohol, no foul language or disrespectful behavior, limited TV, and chores. We also took away their cell phones and computers in order to restrict outside influences. If any rules were compromised, we explained that there would be consequences. Terry and I say, “You can make your choices but you can’t choose the consequences of your choices.” This was the underlying message throughout the week. They could decide how to behave, but we decide the consequences, like real life. When Gina rolled her eyes and lied about throwing wood down the ravine, we imposed “boot camp.” I was nervous about her reaction, but she complied and vowed that she would never roll her eyes again.
My family has a daily routine. We wake up and do chores.
Everyone chooses household chores from the chore board and activity-type chores from the “Big Board.” Household chores range from loading and unloading the dishwasher to wiping down sinks and toilets. Usually, the last person gets the worst jobs, so there is an incentive to wake up early. When everyone helps, the whole house is cleaned in less than an hour. Taylor and Gina quickly learned that the last one up usually gets the sinks and toilets. On their first day, Taylor and Gina did the bare minimum to complete the job. Taylor swept the dirt under the bathroom rug, but when I discovered the dirt, I made him do push-ups.
My own children also benefited from this experience. They felt like role models. I overheard them saying that the chores are just part of their routine and they feel accomplished even before breakfast; Quinn told Taylor that our family gets more done because we work together. These were great lessons shared by someone their own age.
Throughout the week, the teens split wood, weeded gardens, mulched flowerbeds, and washed dogs; just a regular week at the Malones. At times there was resistance. They tested to see if we really meant what we said but once they understood that we followed through with consequences, we saw them begin to change.
Initially, I worried that seven days would be very long, but the week passed quickly.
Both Gina and Taylor had turning points. Gina’s moment was off-camera when she described her strained relationship with her father. I shared my feeling that Gina could be a wonderful role model after watching her interactions with Keeley. Gina told me, “I can tell that you really care about me,” and we both became emotional. Taylor fell apart when he read a letter from his mother. He was lacking a male role model. I can’t think of a stronger male figure than Terry, who hugged Taylor and told him that he was worthy of love.
When Gina’s mom and Taylor’s mom arrived, everyone was very emotional. In one week’s time, we went through a wide spectrum of emotions, ranging from frustration and disappointment to a sense of accomplishment. Having these teens in our house for the week, living side by side with our family was an intense experience. I was skeptical that one week could make a difference, but I believe that the design of the show did work.
We keep in contact with Gina and Taylor almost daily, through texting, Facebook, and phone calls. Gina is performing better in school. Taylor is becoming a role model for younger boys. He is a volunteer coach for a youth flag football team. This Thanksgiving we added extra place settings for Taylor, his mother and sister, and Gina as well.
We all changed from the experience. I saved a note from Taylor that he hid under the bathroom rug, “Miss you already. Love, Taylor.”
View the full episode at www.cmt.com/videos/worlds- strictest-parents-202-the-malone- family/1650341/full-episode.jhtml