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Do Children Ever Belong On Reality TV?

Exploitation or opportunity of a lifetime?

The other day I wrote a post about Kate Gosselin in which I found myself defending her. To be honest I had intended to talk some trash about Kate, but the more I read about why she was getting slammed in the media the more I couldn’t understand what the big deal is about Kate. She’s brash, somewhat abrasive and says what she thinks, which can lead to dislike. Especially when those features are showcased on television as you’re going through a very contentious divorce.

I suppose Kate is just someone people like to hate. So yeah, she has a few personality issues (who doesn’t?) but it seems that everyone’s biggest beef with Kate is that she “exploits her children”. Read any article about her on the web and of the hundreds of comments that follow, I guarantee half of them will talk about how she exploits her kids.

Here are my thoughts. If I’ve learned one thing as a parent it’s to avoid discussing how to raise children with anyone. You know how Miss Manners says it’s impolite to discuss politics and religion at the dinner table? Add parenting to that list. People go nuts on this topic. Inflicting their opinions on people as if they’re some sort of parenting expert. In fact, I’d rather talk religion than parenting.

So, when we see parents raising children on reality television, the claws naturally come out. And so much of our ridicule is deserving. Take the abomination that is Toddlers & Tiaras. That poor excuse for a television show should be illegal. Are those girls exploited? Absolutely. Now take the Gosselin children, who are featured in their home environment or on vacations specifically tailored to children. How can that be a bad thing?

As Randee Dawn writes for Today.com, even if what the children are doing on television isn’t harmful, once the cameras turn off, problems can arise when children miss being in the spotlight. She spoke with a man called Robert Galinsky who – get this – is the founder of the “New York Reality TV School”.

There’s a school for reality TV? Oh my.

“But whether cameras create the ham or not, their departure can create as much chaos as their presence”, Galinsky tells Dawn. He added that the eight Gosselin children will now have to fill their days without cameras following them for the first time in years, and that may be a jarring experience. Maybe, but does that mean that while they were on camera their mother exploited them? Or did she take advantage of a very lucrative situation that will ultimately benefit her children? Look at the house those kids are growing up in! Look at all the places they’ve traveled! I read somewhere that she has now saved college tuition for every child.

That, to me anyway, is an entirely different scenario than the little girls featured on Toddlers & Tiaras. Are those girls even paid for being featured on the show?

You also need to take into account all the child stars of non-reality television. What’s the big difference? Why aren’t we all pointing the finger at Jayden Smith’s parents? Are Will and Jayda exploiting him and his sister Willow? Why is the exploitation charge always leveled at Gosselin and not the Duggars? Because Gosselin’s personality is annoying? As Today reports, “Candi Wingate, owner of Nannies4Hire.com, helped Kate Gosselin find a part-time caretaker in 2007, and said she saw nothing worrying on set of “Jon & Kate Plus 8.” (The show’s title changed to “Kate Plus 8″ after the Gosselins separated.) “The kids were so natural with the camera crew. They didn’t act any different; it wasn’t a set-up thing. I think it’s a great way for the kids to look back on their childhood.”

Exploitation begs the question of what exactly is the concept of child labor. Children working in commercial television, or starring in sitcoms are actually working. But kids just being filmed doing their thing? It’s not like producers of Kate Plus 8 were creating dramatic situations for the kids. They just filmed them at home and on vacations. Where is the exploitation? Or does the very fact that they are being filmed in exchange for money create the exploitative scenario?

Maybe. There is no guild or union representation specifically for child reality-TV stars. As Dawn says, “That leaves everything up to the parents — who may not be equipped to understand the wider repercussions of their contracts.”

Guidelines for children in reality television are desperately needed. As Galinsky told Today, “Reality TV took the entertainment industry by surprise. No one could have predicted that it would last this long, with no end in sight. Guidelines have to be drawn up at some point to protect these kids, because there’s nothing now.”

On the one hand you could argue that Kate is a good mom who saw an opportunity to provide for her children while showing them the world and being able to stay with them at home full-time and she jumped on it. Isn’t that a whole lot better than her being gone all day while the eight kids get passed from caregiver to caregiver? And how would she have paid for their education before TLC came along?

On the other hand, as Carolyn Castiglia reports, “Dr. Michael Brody, chairman of the Television and Media Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says “Kids in these kinds of shows are not having a childhood, and you don’t have to be a scientist to know what’s going to happen to some of them as they get older. It can be a real disaster for them.” He continues, “Just doing retakes, where they stage a scene and then re-shoot it again because something went wrong, really screws up a kid’s sense of reality.”

Madeline Holler writes that even seemingly harmless shows like Surprise Homecoming in which surprise reunions between deployed soldiers and their families are featured can be harmful.

Even though parents agree to participate in these shows — in fact, beg to — and even though the military has an office devoted to helping shows like this get made, many mental health experts say kids shouldn’t be subjected to it. They say just below the happy surface can be a jumble of emotions for kids, such as profound sadness and lingering confusion as to why the parent left in the first place.

What do you think? Do children ever belong on reality TV or is it always considered exploitation? If that’s the case, why is it that everyone harangues Kate Gosselin about exploitation? What about the Duggars? Does it depend on which reality television show? Are some, like 19 And Counting okay while others, like Toddlers & Tiaras not okay? Also, how do you reconcile children on sitcoms or who star in commercials with the children on reality TV? Is one worse than the other? If you were offered big money for cameras to follow your children as they traveled the world would you do it?

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