Last Night’s TV – Panorama: Spoilt Rotten?

This film, though shocking, really didn’t tell us anything we don’t already know; and that is that fundamentally, as a society, we and our children are falling victim to our lifestyles.

The way we live is killing us, and the way society tolerates that is frighteningly legion.

In this film, we saw spoiled children, who demand and get, via either tantrums or tears. We also saw children who speak to their parents like they’re something they’ve just stepped in. And we saw what seemed to me to be cases of parents so needing to be needed, they’re – albeit most likely subconsciously – slowly killing their kids.

One child we met was 5 year old Leon, who weighed the same as most 17 year olds. We saw that his mum and gran dote on him, and are convinced that his morbid obesity is down to some thus far unknown genetic disorder…

However, it seemed obvious to me within minutes that the problem is, Leon’s mum doesn’t want him to get past being a baby. She needs to be needed, and she’s making Leon utterly dependent on her.

In one scene, we saw Leon being collected from school, and though his home was about 750 yards away, his mum and gran arrived with a wheelchair, stating that halfway through the walk home, Leon “needs” the chair.

During that footage, mum and gran asked Leon several times if he wanted to sit down; Leon didn’t ask to sit down, nor did he show any signs of the breathing difficulties his mum says he has when over exerting himself. But the fact is, he’s going to get out of breath given that he’s carrying the equivalent of three five year olds on one five year old frame.

That Leon’s mum is a good parent and a loving one isn’t in doubt; she clearly believes that by giving him an almost constant stream of food – albeit healthy food – she’s doing the ‘right thing’, but she’s exceeding his required calorific intake. Even an apple is 90 calories, so even though his mum did indeed give Leon healthy fruit and veg, giving it by the truckload is going to result in way too many calories.

Another child we met was Macaulay who, at 13 years old, was drinking vodka like it was going out of fashion. We first met his mum as she was driving round the housing estates where they live looking for her son.

She met several young boys – asking one for a light and joking that she couldn’t give him a ciggie because the camera was there. Another boy she met was very proud of his ASBO and swore at her. This she found amusing…

When eventually Macaulay turned up, it was to fix a puncture on his bike, and it was in this scene that it was immediately apparent what the parenting issue was; he spoke to him mother in a manner that I personally wouldn’t tolerate from a husband, never mind a teenage child.

Macaulay’s mum explained that she can control him when he’s in the house, but that she has no control over what he does when he’s out. Answer? Stop letting him go out! He’s 13, not 23, and therefore he is – in theory – behooved to do what he’s told, so if he drinks when out of the home, ipso facto would state that keeping him in is the answer.

But towards the end of the film, an interview with Macaulay revealed that he’d stopped drinking. When pressed to answer why, he finally and reluctantly said it was because his mum had stopped giving him the money to buy booze.

There were also several children under 10 who were patients at Alder Hey because of severe tooth decay, and it was always attributable to poor diet. And on that point, we heard from the hospital’s medical director that it’s of course frustrating that so much of the hospital’s resources should go on treating what are essentially totally preventable illnesses.

It’s easy of course to point the finger at harrased parents, and often, it’s not warranted, but in the case of one young boy whose hearing was badly damaged by having repeated bouts of glue ear, his father point blank refused to stop smoking around the boy, despite being told by the hospital that it was his smoke that was making his son’s condition worse.

The father tried to justify his actions by implying there’s a governmental conspiracy to stop people enjoying themselves, when the simple truth was clear – he simply didn’t care enough about his child to inconvenience himself by getting off his a**e and smoking elsewhere.

However, one ray of sunshine in an otherwise overcast film was Laurance. He was overweight and wanted to shed the pounds before going to high school, because he was already the object of name calling and didn’t want it to get worse…

What an utterly charming young man he is, and he fully embraced with a genuine keenness learning how to eat healthily and by taking lots of exercise.

Overall, while this film didn’t come as news to anyone, it was yet another pointed finger and damning indictment of our throw away society, and it would seem that for many, their children’s health and wellbeing is as disposable as the cartons their TV dinners come in.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.