Lifestyle

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Little brother (and sis) are being watched...

by the TV camera as they grow up every month for six years

Mark Feane and Leonora McAteer, with their two children Matthew and Conor, who feature in the new RTE series 21st Century Child

They say TV presenters should never work with animals or children, but it seems to be an occupational hazard for clinical psychologist David Coleman who finds himself fronting yet another series on parenting.

Coleman is best known for his 'family makeovers' in the popular Families in Trouble series, but this time he will be taking an even more long-term view.

21st Century Child is a bold project which sets out to follow the development of 12 children, from all over the country and from different backgrounds, from birth until their sixth birthday, dealing with issues such as post-natal depression, sibling rivalry, pregnancy, the 'terrible twos' and breast feeding. A fascinating theme that will run throughout the six years is the role of nature vs nurture -- is it genes or environment which shapes a child's personality?

The families taking part include single parents Aisling Ruane and Katie Hannon, who are facing motherhood without partners; the Glennons, who are adding to their existing brood of seven; the Bonnies, who are dealing with disability and a high-risk pregnancy; and Nigerian emigrants, the Onafuwas, with their Irish baby.

The programme makers say the series' aim is to "look at our children as they grow, and how we can grow with them, featuring individuals from a wide range of geographical, multicultural and social backgrounds who share one thing in common: a new baby".

"As a mother of three children myself," says series producer Aisling Milton, "I have always been interested in child development programmes.

"It would be really interesting with a series like this to have the opportunity to see how children develop and the parenting issues that parents have from the very beginning."

21st Century Child is not the first programme to document changing lives and times through the eyes of children.

The BBC first developed the concept with 7UP, a study which started in 1964, and focused on a group of children from both privileged and poor backgrounds. It followed their progress every seven years to examine the assumption that a child's social class will determine his future, along the lines of the Jesuit theory: "Give me a the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man." The most recent instalment was 49UP in 2005.

Latterly, Child of Our Time commenced its 20-year study with children born in 2000.

Aisling Milton says such inspiration was clear in the concept of 21st Century Child.

"There's nothing more fascinating than seeing how people lives develop and change over time," she says.

"This series should literally give an overview of 21st century Irish childhood and parenthood. It's also a fascinating insight into how children grow and develop. David's advice and insight along the way will give parents valuable perspective on their own children's development".

'By documenting the lives of the families, from late pregnancy right through to their child's sixth birthday, this series will give a real insight into this formative stage in child development," says David Coleman. "Ultimately it will give us an understanding of what it means both to be a parent and also to be a part of a 21st century family."

In the first programme of four, to be aired this evening, three of the babies will be born, changing their parents' lives forever, to be followed by the remainder in programme two.

With lone parents and unmarried couples making up the fastest growing family unit in Ireland, the series will focus on how the very definition of 'family' has changed, including the new Irish who make up our immigrant population.

The current series will end in four weeks when the babies are a few months old and their parents reflect on the reality of life with a baby.

We will meet them all again in a year when they'll be toddling, crawling and babbling onto our TV screens.

21st Century Child starts on RTE 1 tonight at 9.30pm.

Leonora McAteer was a little sceptical about taking part in 21st Century Child when partner Mark Feane saw an ad seeking participants on parenting website rollercoaster.ie.

"After thinking about it, we realised it would be a great way to document the formative years of our children. Not just baby Conor who is being featured, but Matthew who is two and a half," says Leonora. "It would be a bit like a video diary and once I met the production team and David, we were immediately reassured -- it hasn't been at all intrusive, although Matthew had to be calmed when he thought the microphone was a gun.

The director had it pointed at me and said, "Let's start shooting" and Matthew immediately jumped to my defence, saying, 'Don't hurt my mummy!' It was very sweet and funny."



'It's a great way to document our child's formative years'

Leonora says David Coleman's advice has already helped them a great deal. "We have had a problem with Matthew, who is co-sleeping in our bed and we have tried to find a strategy of stopping that once Conor came along. David was great and very approachable."

Even the extended family has been involved in the process.

"My mum is a whizz with kids and is part of the La Leche League, so she has helped me with breast-feeding," says Leonora. "The team has interviewed her about how parenting has changed since her time."

Mark's family lives in Limerick so they're looking forward to catching all the milestones on TV that they might otherwise miss.

In particular, Leonora says she is curious about the nature/nurture argument and how it will pan out with Conor. "It's really interesting to see what's more influential."

So was she uncomfortable having her baby's birth filmed? "Not at all," says Leonora. "They weren't really interested in the gory bits, just about the bonding process. We haven't found the cameras at all intrusive and they check back with us monthly for progress reports."

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