American Morning

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October 23rd, 2009
06:26 AM ET

Should kids be reality TV stars?

By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

Will Falcon Heene be forever known as "Balloon Boy?" It sounds silly, maybe even funny – unless you’re Falcon Heene.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="The Heene family – including Falcon, second from right – on CNN's "Larry King Live" last week."]

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.

Watch reality TV kids Video

“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'
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Irl Gladfelter

    Please stop playing the "race card." The President's race could not be more irrelevant. We do not have a black President. We have a President of the United States, period.

    Distrust of government, whether it makes sense or not, is as old as our Republic, which was founded by a revolt against a form of government . Whether it is apparent or not, on some level, distrust of government is "hard-wired" into American political culture.

    Those opposed to our President's policies would be equally opposed to those same policies whether they were promulgated by a President of any race.

    If you like his policies, support them and vote for Congressmen and Senators who support them. If you dislike them, vote for Congressmen and Senators who oppose them; and vote for someone else in the next Presidential election. After all, there are black politicians who are both liberals and profound, laissez faire economic and social conservatives (like Alan Keyes and The Hon, Justice Clarence Thomas.) Please deal with the issues on their merits.

    November 13, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  2. Shaynes

    It makes no difference, how much our citizens distrust govenment,. This is only happening because our prsesident is a black man. Let's face it. I wish some one would come out and say this is blatant racism.

    October 30, 2009 at 6:41 am |
  3. Margaret

    Young children who are exposed to this type of entertainment are subjected to indelible scares to their undeveloped psyches, self esteem and self worth. We have seen time and time again how children are damaged by being the family "bread winners", after their parents thrus them into the lime light, for their own selfish monetary gain.

    There is no regulatory system in place for children in reality shows. Why have we (the viewing audience) latched onto viewing dysfunctional family behavior on TV.
    It's not amusing nor entertaining to see how many families that are in real crisis in our country!

    Clearly, the Hennes', Jon & Kate, Octomom and the like, all need family consulling. If we show that there is no interest in watching these "train wreck" shows perhaps, they'll go away!! My prayer, is that the Heene children, etc., get the help that they need. While the public is laughing or clicking their tongues at these families, whose looking out for their children.

    October 26, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  4. Mehrnoosh

    I think thes type of shows must not be aired on TV. Any type of psychological problems,,, family matters must be kept in Psychotherapist's office. The TV industry is teaching some people : act , behave & live weird,,,,, you will be famous & rich by being on TV interviews & writting a book about your life!!!!!!
    I do believe the " balloon boy" family should be kept accountable for their action & let the other parents know about the consequenses of their nonsense actions.

    October 23, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  5. michael salem

    on catching the flu...don't you think that the thousands of places starbucks has where you pour your cream or milk in the coffee are very unsafe when it comes to the flu.there should be another type of a dispenser for these liquids that these thousands of people do not touch..i do no see any hand sanitizers in starbucks!!!

    October 23, 2009 at 1:21 pm |
  6. themoi

    Are reality shows any more far removed than having kid actors on TV shows or movies? And we all know how screwed up alot of them ended up. Leave the reality to the adults who can handle it emotionally (which doesn't leave many). Kids don't have the capacity to process the reality show vs. the real world.

    October 23, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  7. Charles

    Thank you SO MUCH for referring to TLC.

    That company truly does exploit children and families. The "numbers" is what they are after, and whatever it takes to keep them high.

    Since TLC does not see the harm they have done to the Gosselin family, perhaps they should look at their "own people" and film their lives for the entertainment of others.

    Certainly they could find intriguing people among their very own employees.

    Perhaps feminists Eileen O'Neill and Karen Stoddard would be an engrossing family to follow.

    Karen went into retirement to raise their children. Eileen rose in pay scale and title and is now CEO at TLC.

    They could call this reality show: "Mommy, Mommy and Me"

    October 23, 2009 at 11:36 am |
  8. nan

    If anyone did any checking they would find that Kate 1. had to use a different fertility Doctor for her second set of multiples, the first Doctor wouldn't do it again. 2. She was hospitalized for over stimulated ovaries, and as a labor and delivery nurse knew the probability of having super multiples was great, yet made sure she got pregnant during that cycle. She is the original octomom. Read the old Reading Eagle articles from 2005 and the article by John Grogan (author of Marley & Me etc) She got what she wanted and the children are paying the price of our admission into their lives.

    October 23, 2009 at 10:42 am |
  9. Wes

    Amazing...absolutely amazing! We got a so called war overseas, beatings, murders, rape, and alot of other things. what does CNN cover non stop? A useless publicity stunt by a wing nut and his family just so he can get an UNREALITY (yea u read it...UNREALITY) show. Don't you people realize what you are doing? you are feeding into what these people want! They WANT the attention you idiots are giving them. They crave it. I mean come on already. October is cancer research month. It took you 23 days to figure that out! Go figure! Obviously a stupid publicity stunt for (yawn) another unreality show is MUCH more important than say our troops...or murders...or anything more serious. try giving us the news instead of a crack pot circus

    October 23, 2009 at 10:38 am |
  10. David


    By the fact this question is being asked highlights the dysfunctional behavior of our society. Children are the last of the innocent and no one could ever give a valid reason as to why they should be used for exploitation purposes. We should not lose sight that the only reason these types of shows exist is due to the ignorance and stupidity of the viewing audience.

    October 23, 2009 at 9:34 am |
  11. Caesar48

    No, children should not be on reality shows. It is not the children's decision to be on one of these reality shows. It is the adult's decision that ultimately puts their children on TV. Jon and Kate Plus 8 - I remember Kate stating that Jon had stated that two children (twins) were enough but no, Kate badgered him till she got Jon to agree to more children; she stated she wanted one more - well come on – her first were twins, did she actually believe it was one more. It did not take Kate very long to get those children on TV, right from birth. Now, Kate has this very expensive home and probably could not support this house if she loses that show. I did read that Kate may be considering some kind of talk show (well, I see Kate as rather dumb) and who would want to listen to her. Jon seems to be the smarter of the two but yet I have seen some blogs state very negative things about him, calling him a doormat, hen-pecked husband and even on the motorcycle show - one of the guys from that show stated " :we know who wears the pants in this family (meaning Kate). Kate even stated she was too in a hurry to have children so I am guessing from that, she should have waited to have children naturally but gee, that would only mean one child at a time and therefore, no attention. This show should really be called "Kate and her Get Rich Quick Scheme", which did work for awhile. But if Kate fads away, so will her expensive house and she will end up with a ton of kids and no way to support them. Gee, Kate, you need to go back to the beginning of your show and learn how to be frugal again and maybe beg your parents and relatives to forgive you for being the mean, money-driven woman that you are. As for Jon, yep he is at fault, but he got tired of being the doormat for Kate, and I agree with him, take those children off the reality show, get back to a modest house and finally raise your children. But I don't believe Kate can do it; she is just too mean. Having those children was only to gain wealth and no other reason. And because of this Jon and Kate Plus Eight show, I do believe that Octomom had all those children so she could be rich and famous and there are lots of people out there with the same ideas that Kate had – have many babies at once and put your freaks of nature on television which is what Octomom is doing.

    October 23, 2009 at 9:05 am |
  12. Cathyn518

    Children are subject to abuse and exploitation when on reality shows. In Jon and Kate plus 8, moments such as potty training, tantrums and now their parent's bitter divorce are played out for all to see. These children have no privacy, and do not think for one moment their peers will not taunt them about these private issues made public.
    For their mother, Kate Gosselin, to want to continue to film them shows that they have become her 8 little meal tickets. I would expect that when these children reach a certain age, they may even go after the network, TLC, that aided in their family's destruction and the loss of their childhood. Why are there no laws to protect these innocent children in place3?

    October 23, 2009 at 9:03 am |
  13. Michelle

    Good Morning Carol:

    NO! I do not think kids should be in front of a camera at such a young age, unless they are old enough to understand what the consequences or repercussions are to being shown on national television.

    I agree with the fact that in many cases it's the parents who want a shot at that so called "15 minutes of fame", or want to become rich by using reality television to reach that vantage point. It shouldn't have taken the story of Falcon to realize that kids are affected when they are in front of the camera, and by the actions of their parents who think only of themselves using their children as an excuse to say that their kids need to develop self esteem, etc. There are plenty of other ways behind the camera that can work for such a thing.

    Adults know exactly what they are doing unless they have a mental deficiency. Parents need to realize that they took on the responsibility of becomming a parent. Therefore; as a parent use common sense and recognize it's NOT ABOUT YOU! IT'S ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN.

    October 23, 2009 at 8:46 am |
  14. Annalise

    The Jon and Kate saga is about money not the kids. I think a reality show minus Jon would be wonderful. Millions of American women are single moms who have to deal with Jon Gosselin types. Where was his outrage about reality tv when he was living the good life and could not keep a job on the program? How does he propose to raise and educate eight kids without a source of income? If he is so interested in the kids would he have so publicly and stupidly carried on his love life in the public eye? His kids are young now but they will be able to read all about their dad's behaviour in the archives of various tabloids when they are a little older.I would love to see a programme about a single mom who has to raise kids with an ex husband who tries to use the kids to control her. That would be real reality tv.

    October 23, 2009 at 8:46 am |
  15. Sherman Blosser

    Carol say it ain't so you mean Leave it to Beaver was not a reality show

    October 23, 2009 at 8:37 am |
  16. MIKE

    The parents and television shows should be prosecuted for child abuse. 21st century sweat shops!!

    Newtown, PA

    October 23, 2009 at 8:31 am |
  17. Mary Overmars

    Carol reality check, if you have kids they fight ,yell ,fall, in front of home video cams or TV cams. If one or 2 parents can learn, get any ideas or tips on how to raise kids this show did it. My husband and I had a buisness at home open day and night so that ment the kids were somehow affected with putting food on table by being involved.
    Watching these shows are far better tools then shows with crime, sex and guns and the blood on medical shows
    The kids will be fine now the father that is another show lol
    Mary in ontario

    October 23, 2009 at 7:47 am |
  18. Wimpy

    Well...guess my original post will not be placed on this a society we do not require special classes or licensing to have a child and make sure Mom and Dad have some clue about raising their own children. Why are we then so surprised when it turns out some parents have no clue that some of their behaviors are so innapropriate? We need to pass an exam to drive a car, yet to bring a life into this world and be responsible for that life requires no training whatsoever. Children do not leave the womb with a set of instructions attached to them like an appliance, perhaps it's time to catch up with that reality.

    October 23, 2009 at 7:36 am |
  19. Wimpy post yet...I guess the "reality" of CNN is not to do a story that might lose advertising sad a reality show is that?

    October 23, 2009 at 7:17 am |
  20. carol costello

    I did consult ta psychologists before writing this story. Dr Jamie Nuysman has counseled 800 kids who've been on television–including reality TV shows.

    He told me: "Children need the ability to be safe and have boundaries. The family vessel is really what brings us self-esteem. Parents whose kids are brought up in front of a camera had an agenda. It means keeping kids safe becomes secondary."

    Nuysman told me it's best kids not be on reality TV, 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.

    Carol Costello

    October 23, 2009 at 7:15 am |
  21. Wimpy

    Don't see my original post yet.....hmmmm....does CNN have the guts to publish it?

    October 23, 2009 at 7:04 am |
  22. Debra Puckhaber

    I don't get it. This rash of "reality" shows the last few years. Perhaps the first one or two were entertaining – but this has become crazy! Frankly, I'm too busy to watch much television but my types of "reality shows" are: the news; history programs; documentaries, etc. It is no less than disturbing that this whole genre of television even exists, let alone whether children should be involved. In my opinion, people should spend their time living their own reality, not watching others live theirs.

    October 23, 2009 at 6:59 am |
  23. dee

    I really feel it is wrong to display children on realtiy shows of any kind. We as children our parents took embarassing pics out of cuteness and fun and later tried to use them for a form of fun but some of us may have found that embarrassing how do we think these children will react when they grow and find out that all their most embarrassing moments were on public display their whole lives?
    Kids need to grow up in their own world not to be put on public display . Children need to know that when they grow up they at least have something they can say was their own special moment not everyones special moment. In todays world we have adults who were at once children stars and look at some of them now on drugs spent time in jail running from the public eye just to have a moment they can call their own is it really fair not to give the children a right to have their own life their own childhood. I reall believe that the parents are the ones that are benfiting from placing their children in that situation and it is all a form of greed on their behalf they are not doing this for the kids. Look at Octomom she did all this for reality, the Duggars ( at least some of those kids are old enough to make their own decision) look at Jon & Kate +8 I may think that Jon is an ass and that part of his decision to not have his kids on tv is because he is not but in all reality he does have a point to call it unhealthy for his kids to be subjected to this kind of publicity. And then we have balloon boy how does anyone really think he is going to feel or react to all of this when he gets older. This is not funny this, is not fair to him his father and mother were a part of this to not only exploit their own child but to try to make a fast buck for themselves they were never thinking about their son they were only thinking about themselves and what gains they could accomplish by their actions. This not love telling their child to hide and not come out when call for because it was a show and then to have him on public tv throwing up is this alright. I am a mother and I would never exploit my son in this manner or any other manner for that fact. Years ago I was offered to do a commercial with my son and I refused because it is not about the money it is about the fact that we bring children in this world because we love them and want to give them a good healthy normal life and a childhood they can look back on not to bring them into this world to make money off them. Look at Jon Bennet what did the public eye get her?

    October 23, 2009 at 6:58 am |
  24. Cynthia wedding

    I just wrote to TLC about the Dugger family. Obviously this man couldn't feed 19-now 20 kids if TLC wasn't making him wealthy! She is expecting the 20th now and I feel this is disgraceful–it's like her body is being used as a "baby factory" for the pupose of TLC show. Now I think the son is expecting–"just like daddy–I'll get rich too"– for having a child every year. It could be part of their unusal religion. I just feel that poor, uneducated people will mimick this behavior to get a SHOW. Has anyone looked into the "emotional" health of having 20+ children–or the consequences of the "well-being" of the older children who must be somewhat responsible for younger ones. Or is TLC paying enough to have "nannie/cooks", Therapy?

    October 23, 2009 at 6:48 am |
  25. Gil L.

    This is a conversation we need to have? Really? The contrived mix of nigh-sociopathic attention-seeking and the morbid curiosity of a public that can't drive past the scene of an accident at anything greater than half the posted speed limit has somehow created a damaging environment? That's so...absolutely not shocking.

    I guess what ought to be shocking is that Costello logged this report without consulting a single expert in the realm of sociology, psychology, psychiatry, or childhood development in the course of producing this piece. Instead we get a dishy smear sheet that only serves to shore up everything that's wrong with the process of getting famous in America in the 21st century. Way to keep it classy, CNN.

    October 23, 2009 at 6:47 am |
  26. Mickey

    Carol: kids as young as those on the "balloon boy" scam absolutely should NOT be on reality TV. I'm not a fan of these types of shows and I've been around kids this age, and they really DO have a hard time differentiating reality from "playing around". It's the fault of the parents, but the producers of these shows bear some responsibility also.

    October 23, 2009 at 6:44 am |
  27. Karl

    Hi Carol

    Concerning "reality TV"
    If the question is: Should children be used as_____________?

    the answer is a self evident NO. It's a form of exploitation of these children and your interview with the producer summed it up. Children should not be on these shows. (or allowed to watch them)


    October 23, 2009 at 6:44 am |
  28. john kesrouan

    It's funny how this all came out. A six year old kid blurting out what really happened on CNN. Hey Richard Heene you moron, this is what happens when you involve a six year old in a crime!

    October 23, 2009 at 6:42 am |
  29. Sheila

    No! Childhood is an amzing journey to adulthood. In the best of nornal circumstances it's a tough journey. I can't even imagine the dynamic of adding television cameras. The shame is on the parents but a bigger shame is on society for allowing this to go on.

    Why are we surprised that we have a generation of children who have no respect for themselves or anyone else. Who shoot up schools, beat to death their piers and don't achieve much of anything close to a responsible adulthood.

    October 23, 2009 at 6:41 am |
  30. Kahdir

    No, children under the age of 18 should not be used for reality TV unless it is to only display their talent. (ex: American Idol & Roush Racing: Driver X)

    October 23, 2009 at 6:40 am |
  31. Forrest Walter

    The children on reality shows behave as children usually would behave. It's the adults that behave stupidly, childishly, theatrically, and diliberately. Having a therapist on the set is a good idea but not for the children but rather the "ADULTS".

    October 23, 2009 at 6:39 am |
  32. Dolores Mize

    Carol – If children are to be used in reality TV, the production crew should undergo external review just like university faculty do when using humans as subjects in experiments in various disciplines. Doing so protects children - and in a reality show, the children WILL be "manipulated," just as in a scientific experiment, but there are no controls to protect them. The production companies/networks would also reduce any potential liabilities by demonstrating, to some external, impartial body, that the children will be treated fairly, will not be exploited, etc. This would be a good time for universities in California and New York (where most TV is created) to form partnerships so their "Institutional Review Boards" could offer external services (because these boards are highly experienced) to networks and production companies. This review must take place before (not during, nor after) children are involved in a reality-based television show.

    Dolores Mize
    Edmond, OK

    October 23, 2009 at 6:38 am |