Will Falcon Heene be forever known as "Balloon Boy?" It sounds silly, maybe even funny – unless you’re Falcon Heene.
The Heene incident begs the question: is it time we re-evaluate how children are used on reality TV? Exactly why are we so interested in watching kids stumble, and sometimes fall on shows that we see as Hollywood and they may often see as real life?
On the program “Supernanny,” kids are seen at their worst on national television, with parental consent – all so Mom and Dad can get advice on "how to parent" from Supernanny, Jo Frost. The show's a hit, as are so many others that feature children.
Some say Richard Heene used the adorable assets for a shot at adult fame. And remember Octomom? She and 14 kids are currently "in production." But some experienced Hollywood producers have bucked that trend.
“I don't use children in any of our reality programs,” says Scott Sternberg, a veteran reality TV and executive producer of such programs as “The Academy” and “On the Case with Paula Zahn.” “We have done kids’ game shows where kids compete for prizes and for good things. But no, I've never done a reality show with children and certainly not using children to get their parents on television,” he adds. “Once you put a child in any kind of a serious situation where there can be repercussions, then you're changing those children's lives forever.”
Case in point: the Gosselins of TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8." When the series began, Mom and Dad were bickering, but affectionate. Now,they're in the midst of a bitter, public divorce. Part of the fight is whether those cute kids can remain reality TV stars. Jon Gosselin has said his kids should be taken off the show; but both Kate Gosselin, and TLC want the children to stay on TV, without Jon.
Another reality show mom, Leslie Abbott, says the experience does not always bring out the best in everyone. “People are blinded by fame and lose perspective. Lose perspective of reality.” Leslie and Carl Abbott, along with their teenaged sons, starred in "Trading Spouses, a reality show now on CMT. The Abbotts say they survived reality TV because of one thing: a strong, intact family. Their son, Luke says, “I don't need to be on another one, once is enough, but I don't have any regrets about going on the show at all."
As for Jon & Kate Plus 8? We asked TLC to comment on why it wants the show to continue with just Kate and the children, and not their dad. Their response: “Pass.”
If you’re wondering what psychologists think? I talked with Dr. Jamie Nuysman, who counsels kids who star in TV shows and movies. He says, “Children need the ability to be safe and have boundaries. Parents whose kids are brought up in front of a camera have an agenda. It means keeping kids safe becomes secondary.”
Dr. Nuysman adds it’s best kids not be on reality TV shows, but if they are extra care must be taken so the child doesn’t become known for their faults or bad behavior. The feelings associated with those things last a lifetime and can have lasting, negative effects on self-esteem.
Filed under: Just Sayin'
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