As TV’s beloved Supernanny, Jo Frost spent seven seasons coming to the rescue of parents whose tots were creating havoc — but she says she did much of her best counseling when the cameras were off. So Frost pulled the plug on the long-running ABC hit and began contemplating a new show in which she could assist all kinds of clans, not just those in need of the “naughty step.”
“I wanted to focus on a format that would allow my expertise to be shown on every level, and I wanted to be able to create a format that allows me to help the whole family,” says Frost. “And I wanted to be able to look at 21st-century issues. I want families to hear somebody else’s story, see the crisis they are in and be able to take advice and tips and be inspired by these families as I help them through this transitional crisis period.” The resulting series, Family S.O.S. With Jo Frost, debuts May 28 on TLC, and features Frost helping households dealing with marriage and communication issues, bullying, relocation, rebellious teens and other family-fracturing quandaries. And she was adamant that the new show not make light of the process.
“I wanted it to be very grounded and real,” Frost explains. “I wanted the style of it to be more raw. I was like, ‘Out with the diddly-diddly music! If it’s raw, let it be raw! Don’t cover it up!’ These are real families with real issues. You really feel like that fly on the wall.”
During her seven years on Supernanny, Frost got a firsthand look at the impact of the collapse of the American economy on its families — something she says has given her a better understanding of the harrowing challenges parents face today.
“I was in families’ homes as America was coming into that climate and feeling the severity of these economic times and that’s an incredibly scary, fearful time for a lot of families,” Frost says. “There’s no two ways about it that families had that added pressure and instability of not knowing what tomorrow was going to bring. Where were they going to get the next paycheck from, and how were they going to feed the kids, and what would happen if they lose their homes?”
Frost says she focused her efforts on helping families let go of the comforts of the past and focus on making the most of their future. “When we feel fearful, we tend to hold onto what was yesterday,” she says. “You’ve got to be able to move forward. So I gave families the guidance and the support to find more clarity, because at times they were feeling emotionally overwhelmed. And for some of those families, it brought new beginnings. It let families focus on what they were really passionate about and gave them the opportunity to do that.”
Asked if the increasing tendency for Americans of all ages to communicate via handheld devices over face-to-face chats has added to her challenges, Frost is delightfully diplomatic.
“On a science level and a technology level, how marvelous —the pioneers that are out there leading the way,” she says. “We have to embrace technology and how it’s evolving our society. But we also have to know when to say no. That it’s not all right for our children to be Facebooking or playing a video game when we’re trying to have dinner together. It’s not OK for our young children to be playing video games that simulate violence when they’re not even adults and they’re watching something three years beyond their age. It’s creating desensitization and our children are becoming less empathetic in the world. And we’re seeing an increase in bullying and hostile behavior. That’s no coincidence.”
“And it’s not just a lesson for children; it’s a lesson for adults as well,” she continues. “We have to set the example. When you’re around the family, honor the good times and the connection — because it doesn’t happen via a piece of technology!”
Frost admits that learning to find downtime in her own life can sometimes present a challenge, as well, because she is so passionate about her work. Fortunately the woman who has devoted her life to helping others has some help at home, as well.
“The biggest way to sum it up is I want normalcy in my life,” says the avid home cook and gardner. “So when I’m not with a family consulting to the hours and the depth that I am, I want to come back and have some balance myself. My boyfriend is really good at going, ‘OK, Jo, this is the art of doing nothing. Today we will work at the art of doing nothing.‘ And I’m like “What’s THAT?’
Family S.O.S. With Jo Frost premieres Tuesday, May 28, at 9/8CT on TLC.
Jo Frost image: David Carlson