Guest post: the world’s strictest parent speaks!

We are truly honored to present to you a guest post by Nicholeen Peck.  If you have not heard of Nicholeen, she and her family star in a BBC show “The World’s Strictest Parents,” in which two troubled teenagers from the UK travel to the Peck’s suburban home in Utah, where they encounter a pretty strict LDS home-shooled family.  As a parent of four kids, I was extremely impressed with how Nicholeen and her husband dealt with the two youths, both of whom boasted of drinking, doing drugs, smoking, dressing immodestly. etc.  One of the youths got pregnant when she was 15.  You can imagine the sparks flying when the youths faced “house rules” including no smoking, no drugs, no drinking, no dressing immodestly and no caffeine.  I will not spoil the ending, but I will say that the show treated the Pecks and the LDS religion very favorably.

Please visit Nicholeen’s web site here to see the show.  There are six segments, and it will take about an hour to watch the entire thing.  All parents should watch this show.  Your lovely young kids will someday be teenagers, and you had better be ready to deal with them.  Nicholeen’s techniques — being calm and consistent but sticking to your guns no matter what — are brilliant.

By Nicholeen Peck

How it All Began

Being on TV is not what I expected.  It was better.  In January of 2009 the BBC asked us to participate in an English documentary called “The World’s Strictest Parents.”  My husband, Spencer, and I had done many years of foster care for very difficult teens and we have four children of our own. Also I have been teaching parenting seminars and classes for the last 10 years around North America on how to teach your children to want to govern their own behaviors.  I call my parenting principles Teaching Self-Government.  After speaking to me and looking at my free parenting advice blog the BBC said we would be the ideal parents for their program. 

When I got this invitation from the BBC my soul just about jumped out of my skin.  The sensation was strange to me.  I wasn’t exactly sure what the sensation meant at first.  I spoke with my husband about the project and we quickly made a list of every reason we shouldn’t do it.  They could make us look bad.  Even worse than that, they could make our religion look bad.  How did we know if we could even trust these complete strangers?  After we made our list of why not to do it we almost immediately had the distinct impression that we were supposed to do the show.  The feeling was so strong that we knew we just had to do it.  However, at this point we decided that the reason we were going to take this huge leap of faith in people we didn’t even know was to strengthen families around the world. 

We decided to be dedicated to being completely authentic and running the show our way.  I actually was preparing myself to battle the camera crew if they asked us to do anything which we wouldn’t normally do.  I was so pleased when Ben, the director of the show, said that he wanted us to be completely natural and authentic and that he wanted us to basically tell him what the plan for the week was going to be.  Don’t get me wrong, we had to have our regular life schedule approved, but they were insistent on not showing anything in our life which wasn’t real. 

The BBC considers this story a documentary even though in the US we would consider it a reality TV show.  The difference between reality TV and our show is that a reality TV show is scripted and planned.  The BBC 3 in Britain isn’t the only station to have shows called “The World’s Strictest Parents,” but according to them they are the only branch of the BBC who actually do the show documentary style. 

After multiple back story shoots and countless emails and meetings we were ready to begin. 

Hannah and James came expecting the worst.  I think they really thought we would be tyrannical and ornery.  I think they were much surprised to see that we wouldn’t power struggle with them over issues.  We were just going to calmly stick to our values no matter what they did.  This is our way.  Attitude problems and arguing don’t hurt parents if they have decided ahead of time that things like this don’t bother them. 

 A Parenting Tip

One of my governing philosophies as a parent is that parenting gets tyrannical and out of control when parents choose to engage in power struggles.  Power struggles may get a parent her way sometimes, but even if she gets her way she has decreased her respectability in the eyes of her child.  Children must respect parents in order for homes to be happy places, but that respect can’t happen by force.  I don’t know one person who has experienced a real change of heart by force, and that is what my parenting is all about; changing hearts.  I could go on and on about my parenting philosophies, but then I wouldn’t be able to tell a bit more about our BBC journey with Hannah and James. 

Some Changes in Hannah and James

By living in a fully functioning family James and Hannah experienced a completely new way of life.  I was so pleased to see that James got home he told his mom the one thing he learned was how important family was.  WOW!  That was just what I was hoping he would learn.  His relationship with his mom is much improved because of his experience in our home.  We keep in contact with James and Hannah as regularly as possible. 

If I had to pick a favorite moment in the show that would very difficult because there were so many wonderful experiences during the eight day shoot, but one thing I will never forget is when James and Hannah both expressed that they thought our family was perfect and that they wanted to have families like ours one day.  They said our children were perfect (not true, but I am glad they thought that) and that they wanted their children to be like our children. 

This conversation happened when my children decided to surprise James and Hannah by singing to them.  Even little Porter sang a solo.  Music is a big part of our lives because is stirs the soul and opens the heart to change.  This is why we sang for them.  Whenever our family is not feeling united we also sing with each other. 

During our homeschooling the week they were with us I had James and Hannah read The Dream Giver.  It is a great parable about how a higher power has a plan for all of our lives and we have the responsibility to find that dream and accomplish it.  James especially was touched by this book.  We were reading one day when he all of the sudden stopped and said, “I do have a dream.  I want to be a fashion designer.  I think I will go back to school so that I can have this dream come true.”  After he got home he emailed me with other, more personal, dreams too.  I don’t think James or Hannah had ever realized that someone besides them has a plan for their lives; God.  This realization was inspiring for them. 

After the Show

We all have purposes in life, even if we don’t really know what they are until after they happen.  Doing this TV program and teaching people how to strengthen families is what I am supposed to do with my life.  This mission is for my God.  It keeps me really busy, but it is so worth it.  Especially lately, because I have received so many emails and comments on my blog telling me how seeing our program has inspired people to make great changes in their lives.  All ages have been impacted from other troubled British teens to parents and grandparents.

It is my hope the video will continue to be passed around by people to strengthen families everywhere.  Since we went to all this work to make it, it might as well reach as many people as possible.  If the homes around the world can be healed then many of our government and social problems can also be healed.  Change starts in the home and I am convinced more homes were changed for the better because of “The World’s Strictest Parents Utah” show.  Our power really is in our homes.  I was able to change lives around the world just by living my regular life.  Everyone has this same power.  May God bless families everywhere!

Nicholeen Peck

Author: Parenting A House United

Owner of



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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

27 thoughts on “Guest post: the world’s strictest parent speaks!

  1. Bro. and Sister Peck, you two did a great job on that show. You have a remarkable family. I hope that James and Hannah are doing well. Thanks for your example and faithfulness.

  2. Rulon,

    Thank you so much for you praise. We do keep in regular contact with James and Hannah and both seem to have held on to some of the principles they have learned in our home. James is back at school and has improved his relationship with his mom. Hannah has shown signs of becoming a much more dedicated mother. Complete reversal of some of their behaviors would require a new envioronment I think. It is really hard to have different standards than everyone your know. However, I think in the long run their lives will be improved because they have seen the world with different eyes and I am sure it will never be forgotten. I went to Japan by myself when I was sixteen for a number of weeks and that experience continues to impact my life for good. I hope their time in Utah will do the same.

  3. I just watched the show and I was very touched by your story. Honestly, my own personal dislike for reality TV caused me to be very skeptical and prepared to not like the show. But, your obvious love and patience with James and Hannah really touched me. I grew up in a home with parents who interpreted “strict” to mean harsh and angry, yet you showed how “strict” can actually be gentle and full of love. This is definitely an example of how I am trying to raise my own children.

  4. Katie,

    Thank you for your compliment! I believe that a strict parent doesn’t ever need to yell. Strict really means disciplined, not mean or rude.

    I had to laugh when you said you don’t like reality TV shows. I hate them too. In fact our family never even watches TV really unless something really special is on. Instead we watch a family movie every Friday night together. So, as you can see, it is a total irony that our family would end up on such a show. 😉

  5. my kids and I all watched the show and found it really interesting.
    One question – did the 2 British kids really go cold turkey on cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and caffeine? If so, then their progress was even more remarkable!

  6. To answer your question: They went cold turkey on alchol, drugs, coffee, tea, and caffeine, but we noticed they were having a really hard time going cold with the cigarettes. James said on the show that he had smoked since he was 12 and then he said 9, but he told us he had smoked since age 8. He usually smoked 15-20 cigarettes per day. So, one day one after a little while we noticed that he was trembling a lot. Also, since he suffers from depression, the extra low was difficult for him to deal with. I don’t know if you noticed, but when he was at the door running away saying he wasn’t a child and didn’t want to do homeschool, he was fidgeting a lot. In fact he was practically shaking. I think he was running away in hopes of finding a way to get cigarettes.

    So after much consideration we decided to let James and Hannah smoke four times per day. But, for them that was a huge adjustment. By the end of the week James and Hannah were down to one cigarette per day. 🙂

    One day, James asked if he could say our family prayer. I consented, and then he asked me to teach him how to pray. I taught him the four steps to a prayer and then he prayed one of the most heartfelt prayers I have heard in a long time. He thanked the Lord for the day and then asked the Lord to help him overcome his addiction to smoking. This scene was not shown on the show because after day one, the camera crew the smoking issue had had enough show time. They like their show to have a variety of issues of course.

    James was finally aware of how addicted he was. He told me he had no idea how dependent on cigarettes he was. He really wants to quit. He is still working on it. More than half of his life he has smoked. This is a hard habit to break.

    There were a few times when James and Hannah forgot to take smoke breaks because we were so busy doing fun things. They would announce how amazed they were that they didn’t even want to smoke because they were so busy.

    Good Question.

  7. Nicoleen, thank you for sharing your experience. We usually do not watch reality TV except for American Idol. We will be watching your show. Congratulations on your success.

  8. I watched all 6 clips of the episode this weekend. What a great story. One thing I liked most about the episode was how the show’s producers made all the LDS youth seem mature and grounded.

    What they don’t know won’t hurt them, eh? 🙂

  9. Kim, that is an excellent point. I think it would be impossible for the British viewer to miss the contrast between the two out of control youth and the mature attitudes of the LDS youth. The Beebs was surprisingly respectful of our culture.

  10. It’s true that not all LDS youth are perfect, but at least they have been taught more than many young people today about what is right and wrong.

    What I have noticed so far is that parents are showing this show to their teens, LDS or not and having great conversations about what is portrayed. Pass the show around to families with teens. The entertaining, but religiously respectful nature of the show makes for a great teaching tool. I have teens from the UK contacting me regularly saying things like, “I realized by watching your show that I have never learned what is right and what is wrong. Can you help me find out what is right and wrong?”

    Yes, I think the comparison is compelling.

    Incidentally, the camera crew I worked with were all independent contractors for the BBC. I think this had something to do with how respectful they were and how well the show portrayed our religion. For research they all read some of the Book of Mormon before they came to my home. I was so impressed by this! They even got their hair cut, and made sure to dress modestly and even stop taking the Lord’s name in vain. Which is really hard to do when you have used that word your whole life.

    As you can tell, I was really impressed with the love and respect shown by the camera crew. Our family has pretty much adopted them. They really loved us too. They cried when they said good byes to our family too. We will be friends forever I think. I only hope to get to make good on some of their invitations to come see them in England some day.

  11. Nicholeen:

    I live in England and you and your family made an extremely good impression on the parents of the kids that are our children’s age. My wife and I thought that you and your husband came across very well in the show even if we might have some different tastes and priorities in terms of homeschooling. But even this was good because the people in our lives who know us as Mormons could see the obvious differences between what we do in that regard and what you do in your family as depicted in the show and that can help them, I think, understand that all Mormons are not the same — that there is actually a wide variety of people who belong to the Church. But at the same time, they recognized certain things that you and your family have in common with us, including the importance we place on parenting and rules — and our calm approach to our children (I am saying this because this is the actual feedback that my wife has received from parents of our children’s friends after the show aired here in England last week).

    It also might please you to hear that the missionaries serving in our ward have some new investigators after seeing your show. A member of our Elder’s Quorum was doing splits with the missionaries the day after and they met a family who had seen the show and it came up in the course of their discussion with the member and the missionary. It was fortuitous that it happened while a member was on a split with the missionary because the member could talk more knowingly about the show than the missionary who obviously wouldn’t have seen it.

    Thank you so much for the way you live your lives and for doing this show. I definitely agree that you were “supposed” to do it and how thankful should we be that the BBC did such a good and respectful job in showing your faith and references to the Church.

    Have you seen the American version of the show which also featured a Mormon family — the Corks in Georgia? They also did an absolutely wonderful job and represented their own beliefs and the Church very well. They were authentic, caring, serious but loving and just generally great people. I really liked how they gave reasons for their rules and were upfront with family goals.

    The Pecks and the Corks have done us as a Church proud — thank you for taking what you do seriously and doing it with the guidance of the Spirit.

  12. John,

    Your comment is my comment of the day for sure! I could not be more happy about the show generating interest in the church! I think people everywhere in these hard social times are looking for a key to a change.

    The BBC show was masterfully edited. It showed people without ever really saying it that if a family believes in something greater than themselves, lives by principles according to those beliefs, and practices self control in communication, then they can have happiness at home.

    As common as these ideas are to parents like you and me, they are not always noticed by parents who struggle with family life until they get the opportunity to see a different way. I am so happy I could be part of that change for people. If we all keep this show alive in the minds of people of our faith and people not of our faith, I think we could very well see a huge change happen in many homes and goodness be more able to spread throughout the world.

    Today I got a “Daily Gem” from Sister Dibb that said, “May each of us strive to be ‘an example of the believers.’ May we live the gospel of Jesus Christ and do all that is asked of us, and may we do these things in faith, nothing wavering, with a pure and virtuous heart.”

    This quote describes what we tried to do and what it sounds like you are doing too! Thanks for joining forces with me to strengthen the families of the world and bring people more happiness and understanding.

    May God Bless Your Family!


  13. Nicholeen:

    An orthodox Jewish family in Israel was featured in the following episode and they did an absolutely wonderful job as well. That family took a similar approach to being “strict” that your family does: a loving, soft-spoken and inclusive approach. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a trailer or two for some of the other episodes in the series and it looks like some of the other families take the more physical and severe approach to being “strict”, so the show isn’t going to disappoint those viewers who want to see a farce. But with you and the Israeli family, the world got a glimpse of good parenting — and saw some truly good kids.

    By the way, one of the other commenters above mentioned Cash, the LDS boy working at the ranch who got some air time. I want to echo their comments that he presented a truly excellent image — I hope you can express this to him and let him know he made Mormons around the world proud to know that at least some of the youth of the Church is that way. Of course I am sure he has his share of immature behaviors as a teenager but he came across like an adult, especially compared with the British teens on the show. His mannerisms, the content of what he said and the activities that he was engaged in on the show were all very mature. It was nice to see that and to pretend, for a moment, that it was depicting American youth in general (and how solid a foundation would our society have if that were true?) but unfortunately I know that he is a rare example of a teen with a strong work ethic and a sober attitude (I certainly wasn’t like him).

    Best of luck in your future endeavors with foster children and with your own children.

  14. I love your comments John. You have given me two great ones now. Thank you! I passed your message on to Cash. I think he will enjoy reading it. Just so you know, Cash’s example has inspired many young people to contact me and ask for advice for their lives. They specifically mention him and how they would like to be like him and that they know I can help them. His example was really amazing.

    He is an amazing boy though. I know him because he is one of our homeschool friends and we do lots of things with his family. He is the kind of boy that will un-load my whole car and tell me, “Oh, I’ll get it Sister Peck, you go inside and do what you need to.” He knows how to work and enjoys it. And, he knows God has a mission for his life and tries to live good. I couldn’t be prouder of all the friends of ours which appeared in the show. They were great examples of what a youth can be.

    Thank you for your well wishes. Life continues to get interesting, but we feel compelled to keep trying to strengthen families no matter the pace God sets before us. My God bless you and your family too.

  15. Thanks! I took a look. That was so kind of her! I think I am going to have to check that site out more often too. If you are reading Emily. Thank you! It really was an amazing experience to have and I continue to have experiences with many people because of it too.

  16. Hi Nicoleen,
    I am an LDS teenager living in the UK and it was great to watch the show over here! Well done! It put a great light on our religion which is always what I worry about the most. It was remarkable to see how James and Hannah changed over the time they were with you. I think the biggest difference was that you as parents were willing to give them attention when they were down and had low self esteem but did not pay attention when they were being irrational or having a strop.
    It was also interesting to see what their parents had to say. The main reasons why they were like that was because of poor parenting. So many teenagers in Britain have broken families and are not given any boundaries and so they push their parents until they are so unruly even the parents can’t believe what they’re like.
    The members that watched the show were a talking about it the following sunday and it was mentioned the other day in sunday school! I don’t know how much awareness of the church it raised but it was definitely a positive impact.
    So well done for having the courage to do the show and for giving those kids some compassion and some boundaries.

  17. Stephanie,

    Thank you so much for your mature comments! I can feel you are an inspiring youth. Girls like you give all of us great hope for our future.

    Thank you for telling me about the response in the UK. I have made many English friends since the show. Some who will be friends for life. I have the great opportunity to share my beliefs and the way my family lives to so many people. I consider this an amazing opportunity to strengthen the world. I was also impressed at how the show was edited. The director of the show was sooooooooooo incredible. He really had vision.

    I would really like to introduce you to someone in England. (Another teen) If you get this can you contact me on facebook or go to my site and click the contact button.


  18. Nicholeen,

    I have been watching the show and find it interesting. I am curious about the selection of the teenagers. Firstly, I expect that these teens are not true alcoholics, because alcohol withdrawal can be fatal and that would be a huge risk for the producers. But secondly, I see no teens with disabilities.

    I was friends with a woman whose family belonged to the Church of LDS. Her son is extremely disabled. He is autistic, possibly diagnosed with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Children with this disorder develop normally up to the point where they start to lose language and other skills and finally enter into their own world. She didn’t seem to get much support from her church. Her situation was very difficult and her child has not developed too many skills. What is the Mormon church’s stance on kids with disabilities?

  19. I really enjoy watching the show on CMT/MTV, but honestly am a little bothered. EVERY family who’s taking in these out-of-control teens are all Church-going, God-fearing, “bible-thumpers” as many may call it. Why aren’t families who don’t worship God recognized?? Just because a person believes in all that jazz, doesn’t mean they are the only respectable parents out there. There are so many agnostic, or non-religious people and families out there that have rules for their children, too, and don’t just let them run around and do drugs or drink. Those people deserve appraisal, too. I’d love to see World’s Strictest Parents have a family that doesn’t go by the Bible take in these teens. Just one episode, at least.

  20. CB,

    I don’t really know if this is the venue for this comment. You may want to look for a blog done by CMT or BBC, which is the station my episode aired on, to voice this concern. There really isn’t anything this forum can do about your concern. From what I understand from the BBC, who contacted me about the show, the majority of the people in England are secular, so the show serves as a peek into another place, another culture, and another belief for the viewers. This, as well as the parenting aspect of the show, is what actually draws the viewers.

    That is the BBC’s standpoint of the show. I don’t really know what CMT’s objective is because I didn’t associate with them, and they copied the show from the BBC because of it’s popularity in Britain.

    Anyway, about your point of religion. You really should watch the BBC episodes on youtube. They have had parents from Israel, India, Belize, Jamaica, etc. They are not hooked only into Christianity. However, they told me that they have found that they have noticed more religious families seem to raise children who are less likely to make bad choices. I suppose this is because the line between good and bad is very clear.

    Anyway, I hope that helps. These are the things I was told from the film makers when they asked me to do the show. 🙂


  21. Nicholeen

    I am English and I often encounter teenagers like Hannah and James; usually I automatically pre-judge them with the word ‘chav’ or ‘hooligan’. But watching you and your family interact with these unhappy young people moved me greatly.

    Thank you


  22. Andrew,

    Thank you for your kind observation. I trust that there is goodness in everyone. We were all born good. I’ve never met an evil baby. Somehow, along the way, some people get lost and make bad choices. They may not have direction or support and end up making a pretty bad showing of themselves. But, I have found that if given love, compassion, and a safe feeling environment people often make incredible changes.

    Your honest comment is inspiring to me. I know it seems that most “hooligans” don’t really care, but they have feelings under the rough exterior and will feel your kindness in a smile and an understanding glance. It doesn’t take as much as we think it does to inspire someone to change. I think your honest words will inspire many people to look deeper into others too. Thanks for commenting.


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