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ANYONE that’s ever visited a children’s playground has seen the various parenting styles at work. By the monkey bars there could be the “helicopter” dad frantically encircling his child, making sure his steady hands are ready like a human safety net. A couple of “free range” parents might be standing in the distance nursing coffees while their children confidently tackle the highest point of the climbing equipment. Meanwhile, a “tiger” mum could be challenging her child to master riding a bike without training wheels. A quick Google search or browse of parenting textbooks reveals there’s various conflicting theories on how to raise children. It’s a highly controversial subject, and one that sparks emotional debate. New reality TV show Parental Guidance is launching right into the middle of that debate when it brings together 10 families with different methods of raising children to discuss their styles. The styles covered are strict, nature, attachment, routine, French, tiger, home school, helicopter, free range and disciplined. The show is hosted by Today’s Ally Langdon and parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson, who sets the families tasks such as working together to follow map instructions or find a set of keys locked inside the home. The parents’ teachings are also placed under the microscope when strangers, played by actors, approach their kids in the park. Two of the families involved are from the Hunter. Firstly, there’s Newcastle real estate agent Daniel, 37, and wife Penny, 35, and their children Sebastian, 9, Julian, 6, and Zahra, 2, who practise “free-range” parenting where they encourage their kids to explore opportunities and follow their own interests without strict routines. The free-range philosophy extends to education, mealtimes, playtimes, bedtime and Sebastian rides his pushbike alone to school and goes to the park on his own. “Funnily enough before we went on the show we didn’t know what free-range parenting was,” Penny says. “They said, ‘you guys are our free-range parents’ and we had to Google that. “I would say we’re freestyling parents. Whatever works in the moment and gets you through to the next day.” Penny grew up with free-range parents, while Daniel’s Lebanese parents were more protective. Daniel says their experience over the past nine years has shown free-range parenting suits their family’s lifestyle, especially as their children have grown. “We’ve always believed kids have the ability to push themselves to a certain point, and it’s OK, we don’t need to essentially control that,” Daniel says. “It just grew as they got older and every stage of their childhood as they got more confident and tried more things. We don’t see it as free-range, we just see it as encouraging parents that want them to be hands on and grow in independence. “All of a sudden we started to see a resilient kid who was brave, who was fearless and confident and we kept going with it.” At the other end of the parenting spectrum is Baptist church minister Andrew, 39, and his wife Miriam, 41, who is a policy officer in agriculture. They adopt a “strict” style in raising their children Luke, 12, Grace, 10, and Tim, 5. This involves the fundamentals of unconditional love, prayer and consistency and using a wooden spoon for smacking as a last resort for correcting poor behaviour. “We thought we had things to contribute and things to learn,” Andrew says. “We don’t think we’re the perfect parents, we’re always keen to learn and grow. Also we saw this as a great opportunity to have new experiences as a family.” Andrew and Miriam’s use of smacking presents the most contentious moment in episode one. It drew a negative response from the majority of the parents, including the French style mother Donna, who described it as “a form of abuse.” Andrew and Miriam were aware their use of smacking would be controversial. “We’re not big smacking advocates and we don’t believe every family has to smack or it’s appropriate for every child, we’re just simply sharing what’s worked with us,” Andrew says. “It was good to be challenged on the show and it brought about some really good conversations.” Parental Guidance also features South Australian “nature” parents Liadhan (45) and Richard (67), who live in camping tents on a farm outside Adelaide with their five children, and Barossa Valley couple Rob, 42, and Sioux, 42, who take a disciplined approach to raising their two boys with minimal screen time and a focus on structure. From Queensland there’s former rugby league star Sam Thaiday, 35, and his wife Rachel, who are helicopter parents and home-schooling single mother-of-five, Deb. Victoria is represented by “attachment” parents Lara, 42, and Andrew, 39, who are strong advocates of the “circle of security” theory and Bendigo gay couple Brett, 50, and Tony, 49, who use a strict routine to manage their two sets of twins. Tiger parents Kevin, 44, and Debbie, 41, hail from Sydney, as do Yann, 43, and Donna, 40, who practice “French” parenting by treating their daughter Harper, 7, like an equal and opening her up to adult foods and experiences. However, Parental Guidance’s typical reality TV-style competition format where parents offer feedback and criticism to “determine who has Australia’s best parenting style” concerns Newcastle clinical psychologist Louis Silberberg. “First and foremost I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to parent. It’s not that simple,” Silberberg says. “I would urge people to explore the evidence base behind any parenting style that they’re choosing to adopt, but it’s also important to remember very few people would adopt a very strict parenting style for all scenarios or occasions or all aspects of their parenting. “Most people, without even knowing, would be using a blend of parenting styles.” Silberberg says “generally, we learn how to parent from the way we were parented ourselves” and advises anyone wanting to explore new parenting styles to seek out evidence-based information or speak to a GP or child and family health nurse. “I think it [Parental Guidance] is more likely to be divisive,” he says. “Parenting is hard enough without a reality TV show telling you you’re doing a crap job. “I’d urge people that whatever parenting style they’re interested in or wanting to be influenced by, that they look at the evidence and consult with people who are experts in the field and view it through a lens of entertainment.” Both Daniel and Penny and Andrew and Miriam admit feeling anxious about the response to the show and will avoid social media during its broadcast. “My hope is people will be kind and gracious and not be judgmental,” Andrew says. “I know that’s not always the case on social media, but in the space of parenting, the message of the show is we’re all learning.” For Penny, Parental Guidance was a positive experience for her family. “Every day you just wake up and parent, it’s what you do,” she says. “So to have that opportunity to step outside and look back on what you’re doing and why you’re doing, it was a really good experience. “Also we did learn from the other families. There will be moments now when one of the kids will be having a tantrum and I’ll go straight back to the attachment parents and I think, no calm down and connect with them and get a better outcome out of this.” Parental Guidance premieres at 7.30pm Monday on NBN.