by Stacy Conradt – May 6, 2010 – 5:44 PM
With Mother’s Day coming up in a few days, I thought we’d take some time to recognize a very particular breed of mom: the stage mom. Not all stage moms are bad, of course – some are just looking out for the welfare and well-being of their children. But others… not so much. Here are 10 Hollywood moms who were (or are) quite entrenched in their children’s careers, either for the better or the worse.
1. Jaid Barrymore. An aspiring actress herself, Jaid had Drew auditioning for commercials before she was even a year old. She landed her first gig at 11 months (a dog food commercial) and made her film debut in 1980 at the age of five. By the time she should have been in junior high, Jaid was out partying and drinking with her tween-age daughter. She later appeared in Playboy just eight months after her daughter.
2. Gertrude Temple had Shirley primed for Hollywood from the womb. It’s said that she desperately wanted her daughter to be in the industry and did everything from the pretty standard (having her listen to music in the womb) to the kind of weird (making her memorize the words to popular songs). And don’t think those famous ringlets happened by accident – every morning, Gertrude carefully styled Shirley’s hair to look like that of a young Mary Pickford, setting it in exactly 56 curls in a lengthy process that took hours.
3. Sara Taylor. Before Elizabeth’s violet eyes took the world by storm, her mother, Sara Viola Warmbrodt Taylor, was attempting to do the same. After having children, Sara never performed again and focused instead on Elizabeth’s career. “I knew there would come a time when she would want to follow in my footsteps,” Sara once said. “I could still hear the applause of that wonderful night when The Fool opened in London at the Apollo Theater and I had stood alone in the middle of the stage and taken a dozen curtain calls while a reputedly staid British audience called, ‘Bravo, bravo, bravo!’”
4. Minnie Marx was probably one of the original “momagers” and went by the name Minnie Palmer so others wouldn’t know her boys’ agent was actually one of their parents. She sounds like she was a pretty good one, though – her family thought very highly of her. Groucho once wrote, “She never got over the habit of working with [her sons], and they never got over the habit of going to her with their troubles, their problems and their joys.”
5. Teri Shields was a notorious stage mom back when Brooke was just coming on to the scene. A September, 1977 New York magazine cover story basically said Teri had sold Brooke into Hollywood slavery, forcing her to do intimate scenes at a young age and spouting off in interviews about Brooke’s breasts and her first period. And you thought your mother was embarrassing!
6. Ruby Dandridge was an aspiring entertainer as well. She devised an act for her two daughters, Dorothy and Vivian, calling them “The Wonder Children.” They toured the U.S. instead of attending school.
7. Carol Connors starred in a couple of dozen porns from 1971 until 1981, which is when she became pregnant with her daughter Thora Birch. She was in the notorious Deep Throat and also appeared on The Gong Show as the “hostess” who introduced host Chuck Barris at the beginning of every show. Carol and her husband, who was also in the adult entertainment business, had Thora audition for commercials from a young age. She appeared in a couple of commercials for Vlasic pickles and Quaker Oats before getting her first steady job at the age of six.
8. Rose Hovick was Gypsy Rose Lee’s mom and practically invented the term “stage mom.” In fact, her antics became quite well known when the musical Gypsy came out and exposed her as the type of woman who would practically slit throats to get her daughters agead in the business.
9. Dina Lohan. I probably don’t need to say much about Dina, really. You probably hear enough about her as it is. But I’m not sure a list of stage moms would be complete without her
10. Ethel Gumm was of the Ruby Dandridge school of thought – if she could get her daughters to be in a successful stage act, it was almost the same as being famous herself. Ethel, a vaudevillian, created a show that involved the whole family, including the Gumm Sisters. One of these sisters was introduced to the act at the age of two and a half; she would later become better known as Judy Garland.
There have been seven divorces that have occurred on The Real Housewives franchise in the five years since its premiere. The most recent casualty of this “divorce curse,” Vicki Gunvalson, blames reality TV for her marital troubles telling CNN recently, “We didn’t have 90 percent of the problems that we have now and I truly believe it is the show.” But can a television show really be at fault, or does it merely shine a spotlight on the cracks that were already present in the foundation of a marriage? Whatever the case, divorce and reality TV have gone hand-in-hand since the very first show in the genre in 1973, when PBS’ An American Family, which featured the breakup of the Loud family.
Bill & Pat Loud
It’s ironic that something as intellectually highbrow as PBS and expensive reels of 16mm film birthed what’s considered by many to be the dregs of our beer-bottle culture: Reality TV. Producer Craig Gilbert’s vision of conducting an anthropological “experiment” is something that’s still debated when discussing the genre today. With the invasion of cameras into people’s lives, are we seeing the worst of humanity or are we seeing how things really are? When the Louds were first approached about the project, they were made to believe that they were chosen because they were the “perfect” American family, which seemed to set the reasoning behind agreeing to being filmed for all reality TV families to come—an inflated sense of self and conceit in their own camera-readiness. But when filming commenced for the Louds, a mirror was held up to their lives without even seeing a single frame of their show. Perhaps it was the meddling of producers or the pointed questions they asked that helped illuminate the problems that the Louds realized they could no longer pretend did not exist. In the middle of the project, Pat filed for divorce and the drama that Gilbert had been hoping to capture on film became, well, a reality. The Louds blamed much of their problems on the series and its editing after the fact (perhaps the only people in history who could rightfully say that they didn’t know what they were signing up for with such a project). The behind-the-scenes story of the Louds’ experience with the project was dramatized for the recent HBO film Cinema Verite, at the end of which the audience learned that Pat and Bill have reconciled and at 84 and 90, respectively, are once again a couple.
Jessica Simpson & Nick Lachey
Perhaps because of the cautionary tale that the Louds provided in the early ’70s, reality TV took a break from families for a while to focus on partying twentysomethings (The Real World) and competition-based series (Survivor, Big Brother), but eventually returned its focus on the institution of marriage with MTV’s Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica in 2003. Unlike the Louds, who were vilified, Simpson and Lachey were celebrated way more than they had been in their original careers as pop singers. But after three years of marriage, the couple announced they were divorcing in 2005, just months after the last episode of their show had aired. Simpson doesn’t blame reality TV for their breakup, telling Vanity Fair, “In all honesty, I believe it did not affect our marriage because we enjoyed watching those episodes.” Lachey, however, sees it differently, telling David Letterman, “It was just so invasive that it became a problem.”
Carmen Electra & Dave Navarro
Riding on the coattails of Newlyweds success, MTV aired ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen and Dave, a one-season reality show about the famous couple’s preparations for their wedding. Although they broke up less than three years after they were married, the couple agreed on one thing—reality TV was not to blame. Navarro didn’t even consider the show very realistic “because you’re not gonna be real with an eight-man crew in your house,” adding that “It’s the most realistic portrayal of…life with eight guys with cameras around.”
Shanna Moakler & Travis Barker
Desperate for more married couples, MTV recruited Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker and former beauty queen Shanna Moakler. The two seasons of their show Meet the Barkers chronicled their wedding and the birth of their second child. Barker filed for divorce just months after the final episode of their show had aired. But even though Meet the Barkers was no longer on the air, their relationship was still very much a show. Moakler infamously hosted a divorce party, featuring a tiered cake with a murdered, mohawked groom. The couple were then very publicly off-again-on-again for a few years until they finally divorced for good in 2008.
Whitney Houston & Bobby Brown
When America’s sweetheart first married R&B’s bad boy many thought it would never work. But oddly, it did—for the 14 years before they decided to open up their lives to Bravo cameras for Being Bobby Brown in 2005. In just 11 short episodes, viewers were given a very rare look into the private lives of the famous couple, and most were shocked at what they saw. Rumors had swirled about Houston’s drug addiction for years, particularly after her infamous 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, but the reality show highlighted the couple’s loving, yet erratic behavior. Just months after the series finale, Houston checked herself into rehab and reportedly stayed separated from Brown until she had a divorce fast-tracked one year later.
Linda Thompson & David Foster
Years before they were ever on The Hills, Brody Jenner and Spencer Pratt starred in the Fox reality show The Princes of Malibu, which followed the lives of Jenner and his brother as the spoiled sons of former beauty queen Linda Thompson. The premise of the show was that Thompson’s babying of her sons caused tension in her marriage to songwriter David Foster. That tension must have been very real because Thompson filed for divorce the same month that the show premiered, causing Fox to cancel the series after airing only two episodes.
Kathy Griffin & Matt Moline
Griffin and Moline’s marriage seemed strong on My Life on the D List, but evidently, there were problems bubbling beneath the surface that caused the couple to break up after the first season of her reality show. However, they reconciled briefly and Moline was filmed for the show’s second season, but the couple divorced in May 2006, several months before Moline’s last episode aired.
Danny & Gretchen Bonaduce
If there was ever a reality show “train wreck” it was VH1’s Breaking Bonaduce. During filming, Danny fell off the wagon and began openly drinking and taking steroids. He and his wife Gretchen allowed cameras to film their couples counseling. The first episode of the second season shows Danny traveling to Mexico to promote the show, where he sees for the first time an episode featuring Gretchen getting a lap dance from a male stripper and he subsequently loses his temper. Gretchen then kicked him out of the house. The couple divorced a year later.
Linda & Hulk Hogan
The Hogans had something very rare among entertainment-industry families—a solid marriage that spanned nearly a quarter of a century. They opened up their lives for the VH1 show Hogan Knows Best in 2005 and in just two short years their 17-year-old son Nick was indicted as an adult on four criminal charges and sentenced to eight months in jail, a story surfaced in The National Enquirer in which a woman claimed to have had an affair with Hulk while he was filming his show, and Linda filed for divorce (just one month after the final episode of Hulk Knows Best aired). Hulk found out about the filing when a local newspaper called him for a comment.
Missy & Bam Margera
In 2007, Bam Margera threw caution to the wind and featured the planning and ceremony of his marriage to Missy Rothstein on Bam’s Unholy Union, despite MTV’s dismal track record with the relationships of the couples featured on its reality TV programming. In 2009, Bam was hospitalized after a four day drinking binge, which he said was sparked by his marital problems. In 2010, Bam told Howard Stern that, although they are not officially divorced, he and Missy live in separate cities and she is aware of his various girlfriends.
Jenni Pulos & Chris Elwood
Bravo’s Flipping Out is about decorator/house-flipper Jeff Lewis and his staff, who must put up with Lewis’ demanding personality due to his OCD. Two of his assistants—Pulos and Elwood—were married before they began working for Lewis. During the show’s second season, Lewis fired Elwood after a surveillance video revealed that he was shirking his responsibilities and not doing his job properly. Pulos divorced Elwood shortly after, citing the tape as “a factor in their breakup.”
Katie Price & Peter Andre
The marriage of glamor model Katie Price (aka Jordan) and pop singer Peter Andre was a match made in reality TV heaven when they met while filming I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! in 2004. Audiences watched live as the couple fell in love. It was only natural for them that they continue their relationship on television, where they had a kid, got married, and had another kid while filming several one-off reality specials and eventually a series titled Katie & Peter. After three and a half years of marriage, the couple divorced, and while their breakup was not chronicled for television, the aftermath of it was with Price’s new show What Katie Did Next.
Kate & Jon Gosselin
The breakup of the Gosselins’ marriage dominated tabloid covers for a solid year, beginning in April 2009 when it was first reported that Jon was having an affair with a local woman. Perhaps the public was so consumed by the story because, unlike most reality TV couples, Jon and Kate were not famous before their show Jon & Kate Plus 8, a relatively mundane family show which featured the Gosselins raising their children—a set of twins and a set of sextuplets. The Gosselins’ brand, success, and entire reason for being (on television) was because of their family. Watching Jon’s misbehavior—the Ed Hardy shirts, the cigarettes, the late nights, the young women, the bikini parties in Vegas, the purchase of a two-seater car when he has eight children—play out in real-life was fascinating and completely antithetical to what TLC purported him to be. Jon blamed the media for “exploiting” his children in some kind of weird power play to get more money to appear on the reality show. Ultimately, he was kicked off the show and it was renamed Kate Plus 8. For her part, Kate never blamed reality television for any of their problems, but rather Jon, for being a selfish person.
Susie & Corey Feldman
Susie and Corey were married (by officiant MC Hammer) on the season finale of The Surreal Life in 2002. The returned to reality TV in 2007 for The Two Coreys, an A&E show which was originally intended to be a light-hearted account of Corey Haim moving in with the Feldmans, but spiraled into something completely different by the show’s second season, with Haim’s drug problem overt and out of control. Many scenes showed Haim lashing out at Susie Feldman. Corey Feldman refused to continue the project unless Haim got sober. (Sadly, Haim died of a drug overdose in March 2010.) In October 2009, Susie filed for divorce.
Jeana & Matt Keough
The Keoughs have the unfortunate privilege of being the first breakup in The Real Housewives franchise after they legally separated during the third season of The O.C. version of the show. Matt, a former major league baseball player, never liked the cameras and didn’t participate very much on the show. In interview segments, Jeana shared that Matt had a bad head injury that affected this personality, and later admitted that he struggled with alcoholism. In the summer of 2009, Matt was arrested for DUI and was later sentenced to eight months in jail. After the Keoughs’ money problems became public knowledge through the show, Jeana pulled out of the series.
The Count & Countess de Lesseps
The next Housewives couple to split were the de Lesseps, from the New York City cast, which came as a shock to viewers as there were no signs of marital problems. In fact, the Count was barely featured on the show due to the amount he had to travel for work. It turns out that the couple had been living separately for years—he in Europe and she in New York—and that he had been carrying on with an Ethiopian princess, for whom he eventually left his wife.
Tamra & Simon Barney
Although theirs was the third divorce to occur in The Real Housewives universe, the demise of Tamra and Simon’s marriage was the first to actually play out fully on the show. We watched as they suffered from financial trouble, forcing them into a short sale of their home. We watched as Simon became more controlling. We saw Tamra attempt a last-ditch effort to save their relationship by unwisely having his name tattooed on her finger. Eventually, Simon filed for divorce and (along with his children) no longer participates on the show. However, the couple’s drama is still very much playing out in the public eye, as they release statements and contact the press about their alleged bad behavior.
Cat & Charles Ommanney
As part of the ill-fated D.C. cast of The Real Housewives (the first in the franchise to not be picked up for a second season) Cat’s husband had a very impressive job as the award-winning White House photographer for Newsweek. Admittedly, Charles’ job involves a lot of political skill, so it impacted his career negatively when his new wife signed on to a tawdry reality show. Before the first episode even aired, the couple split; Cat’s involvement with the show and association with the Salahis, the infamous White House crashers, negatively impacted Charles’ career. In an interview with The New York Times, Charles blamed the show for the dissolution of his marriage saying, “In a way, I was naïve and foolish to sign off on doing this. But, at the end of the day, it was innocent. I wanted happiness for someone I was in love with. I put all my reservations aside and said: ‘Go for it. Do it if it makes you happy.’ Then I regretted it. I lost touch with everyone, and mix that with my marriage falling apart and the show taking over, it was very sad.”
NeNe & Gregg Leakes
Much of season three of The Real Housewives of Atlanta focused on NeNe’s marital problems that were evidently sparked by her husband’s finances. The split seemed final, though, later in the season when NeNe learned that Gregg had given a radio interview in which he blamed his financial troubles on the amount of money that he had to spend to make NeNe appear wealthy in order to secure her a position on the show. She filed for divorce in June 2010, yet told Essence in December that she and Gregg were still legally together and living under the same roof, but hinted at the fact that they would, in fact, divorce, leading many to believe she was saving the drama for season four of the show.
Camille & Kelsey Grammer
It’s odd to think that Kelsey Grammer, a successful actor, would need or want to be involved with a reality show—particularly one that would expose his marriage, which had reportedly been sexless for many years. It’s also odd that while the show was filming, he would move to a different city and embark on an affair with a younger woman, for whom he eventually left his wife and married. But according to Camille, Kelsey had already emotionally checked out of the marriage, and pushed her into getting involved with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills as a distraction, saying, “He thought it would be good for me to do something that was separate from us being a couple.”
Vicki & Donn Gunvalson
As the last remaining original cast member of the original incarnation of The Real Housewives, Vicki Gunvalson shocked viewers after she filed for divorce in October 2010. The news came after season five of her show, which showed Vicki and Donn’s relationship healthier than ever after the renewed their wedding vows for their 15th anniversary. Vicki blames the show for her marital problems.
Jennifer & Eric Williams
The problems that plagued the marriage of Jennifer and (former NBA player) Eric Williams—namely Eric’s infidelity and a possible love child—were broadcast on the first two seasons of VH1’s Basketball Wives. After endless talks between the couple of saving their marriage, Jennifer confirmed to Life & Style in February that she was filing for divorce, the drama of which can be expected to play out on the third season of the show, premiering later this month.
Leah Messer & Corey Simms
Messer and Simms have had a crazy two years. They became pregnant with twins after only dating for about six weeks, tried to make it work, but then broke up shortly after the birth of their daughters (one of whom is a special-needs child), all of which was chronicled on their episode of 16 & Pregnant. They reunited on Teen Mom 2, and got married in a camo-themed wedding on the season finale. However, just six months after getting married (and only three weeks after the wedding episode aired on MTV) Messer filed for divorce, making them the youngest reality show couple to break up, as well as being the shortest-lived reality show marriage.
‘Kate Plus 8’ season premiere review: It’s off to a brilliant start… or is it?
Kate Gosselin began the new season of Kate Plus 8 episodes by showing a new side of herself. Charming, witty, and endearing, she managed to overturn a widespread image of herself as petty, mean, and selfish. The new episode took the family-minus-Jon to Australia, where…
Awww, I’m just kiddin’ ya.
Kate Plus 8 was tedious whenever it wasn’t painful. Accompanied by two helpers necessary to aid a mother who chooses to shepherd her children through two airports while wearing spike heels, Kate took the children to Sydney. There, they threw boomerangs, and watched fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Guess what? Cara had a meltdown during the fireworks.
To offset the even poorer image she accrued during her appearance on Sarah Palin’s Alaska, Kate emphasized her new-found adventurousness and good-sportiness. “I had a little redeeming to do,” she said of her Alaska livid-diva turn. “I’m in the mode of challenging myself,” Kate told the camera when she was safely back in her Pennsylvania home. Continue reading
Today Jon released a Twitter message:
As you may or may not be aware, I have been working for some time to remove my children from television. I do not believe being on TV is beneficial to any of them. They are no longer toddlers that are oblivious to what is going on around them. They are now six and ten, in school and desperately in need of a normal life.
Each of them has experienced negative effects of having their lives so public. Some are struggling with emotional and/or behavioral issues. My goal for my children is for them to have a normal childhood, and gain back their much deserved privacy. This is not about money, this is about my children. No amount of money is worth the price my children are paying. You cannot put a price on childhood. Money comes and goes, but you only have one childhood.
For those questions about money and support, I can say I am supporting my children to the best of my ability. All parties involved know the truth about this. I am and have been actively seeking employment. I have been barred from accepting entertainment deals that would generate income for my family due to contractual obligations. I am also actively looking for a job outside of the entertainment industry and so far, have not secured a position. In the mean time, I have been focusing on spending time with my children and providing a safe, stable, normal and private environment for them!
On October 13, 2010, I went to court to act in the best interest of my children- to remove them from television. The judge respectfully denied my plea, and granted filming rights to their mother. I honor the judge’s decision, but I do not support it. I will not stop fighting to remove my children from television. It is not a child’s job to support themselves, or a lifestyle, they need to be kids. I would like to apologize to my friends, family, and especially my children for not taking a stand earlier in my life and not questioning my decisions to have our lives documented and displayed. I will have to answer to my children for the rest of my life. I will have to live with this guilt the rest of my life. I am truly sorry!
Written by SeeingClearly at the IMO blog:
His message has some very clear points:
* Filming IS harming the children
* He has opposed filming for a long time
* Jon has been prevented from accepting entertainment deals
* He is actively looking for work
* He will continue to fight
* He regrets his decision to ever film
His message directly refutes the common arguments of the “fans” who refuse to acknowledge that continuing to film and display this family is HARMFUL TO THE CHILDREN. He took this to court and fought to get them off TV.
Those who claim that Jon is opposing this because he wants to hurt Kate or because he is jealous of the money are choosing to ignore the FACT that Jon wanted to stop filming at the end of Season 4! Jon was objecting WHILE he was receiving huge paychecks. Jon was objecting WHILE he was still married.
If TLC continues to film then they are clearly showing that they don’t care what the FATHER of these children feels about this. They are putting money before the rights and concerns of a father. Since when does a divorce mean you can edit a father out of a family? They simply chopped his name from the title, removed him from the payroll and kept going? They are not simulated characters- this is an ACTUAL FAMILY!!!
It’s clear to me that Jon is concerned for his children. He wants to protect them and he wants to provide for them.
Join the chat at: IMO Blog
Hot on the heels of the ratings news that “Kate Plus Eight” lost more than one million viewers between its first episode in June and its second that aired Sunday, comes another challenge to the TLC show. The Pennsylvania work permits allowing the six-year-old children of Kate Gosselin to be part of the reality TV show are being questioned by a legislator who has asked the state’s attorney general to step in CLICK Z’s STORY
My BFF used that phrase once and I never forgot it. A few thing have been bugging the hell out of me and I just want to vent about them:
(no particular order)
- Subway’s new breakfast commercial. I think there should be a law that says you cannot use the universal alarm-clock beeps on TV. It’s THE MOST annoying sound and those of us that need to hear that sound 5, sometimes 6 days a week, really don’t need to hear that sound while we are supposedly relaxing. I am boycotting Subway. That’s my silent protest. Togo’s is much better anyway.
- The sexualization of young girls. A dance to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is performed by 7 year old girls. I’ll preface this by saying the girls are very talented and obviously put a lot of work and practice into this performance. The parents of these girls should be arrested for child pornography. The girls are scantily clad with bikini tops and booty shorts, and they are gyrating and moving like strippers. I’m not linking the video here for obvious reasons. Turn on the TV. They continually show it in order to discuss it. Yeah, that makes sense. I don’t even want to begin on Miley Cyrus and her pimp, I mean daddy, Billy Ray. Joe Simpson, Joe Jackson, Dina Lohan, Michael Lohan, Jon and Kate, Duggars, Jenners (Kendall and Kylie), pageant moms, and any parent who uses their children for financial gain. It seems child labor laws don’t keep up with the lack of ethics of companies and parents.
- Awkwardness. There is somebody I’ve known my entire life. I love this person and we have many things in common. However, when we talk on the phone (few times per year) it’s awkward, uncomfortable and we have to think of topics to discuss. TV shows, assholes, work, etc. but it’s not the easy banter I have with say, Jen, who’ve I’ve only known about about 10 months. I just don’t get it and I want that tension to be gone.
- Facebook. Yes, I’m on it but I hate it. It’s wonderful and has increased my social life. I’ve reconnected with dear friends that Ilove, family members that I’m closer to now than ever before and teachers that are no longer “Mr.” but now are known by their first names. However, it’s the “dating” aspect that gets dicey. Oh, I won’t get into it but lets just say I have a very strong love/hate relationship with facebook.
- Puberty. ’nuff said.
- This NEWSWEEK writer crap about “gay men can’t play straight men.” Yeah, well Rock Hudson proved otherwise. If gay men can’t play straight, the theater wouldn’t exist. Does one have to be a drug addict to play one? How about a prostitute or murderer? The main point is that gay men have been playing straight men in blockbuster hit movies for decades. If they play straight in real life, doing it in the movies is a piece of cake.
- Annoying co-worker. Oh boy, do I have a good one. This person checks my work (it’s not his job) and attempts to boss me around. He’s impatient, rude, lazy and filthy. He comes in with stinky food, sings annoyingly to songs not on the radio and cannot put simple papers (with holes punched) into an open binder.
- Cancer and Aids. I have a few people in my life, whom I love dearly, and these people are living with these awful diseases. We can put men on the moon, grow ears on mice, clone sheep, allow old farts to have 3 hour erections and miracles happen in operating rooms and research labs every single day. Why these two awful killers can’t be eradicated from society is baffling to me.
- AMC showing “Breaking Bad” coming attractions DURING the initial broadcasting of an episode. They do this about 40 minutes into the program and it reveals spoilers that hadn’t been tied-up yet.Get it together AMC, this is the best show on TV and the viewers are loyal and obsessed.
- Not having a dog. It annoys me that I don’t have a dog.
I congratulate you fans for having such love for these kids that they will, once again, work and sacrifice their childhoods for YOUR entertainment.
Kate Gosselin’s 8 Kids — Cleared for Spin-off
Originally posted Apr 25th 2010 1:00 AM PDT by TMZ Staff
Kate Gosselin‘s new TLC show “Kate Plus 8” is all systems go — because the local Department of Labor says the kiddies have been cleared to continue their careers as reality TV stars.
A rep for the Pennsylvania Dept. of Labor and Industry tells TMZ the correct paperwork for the show was submitted and approved … and said, “The proper steps have been taken and the kids are permitted for ‘Kate Plus 8.'”
But according to the rep, nothing has been submitted for Kate’s other TLC spin-off “Twist of Kate” — which could mean the kiddies may not be joining Kate on that one.
That’s probably a good thing … because 5-year-olds shouldn’t have to work two jobs.
Ex-Beauty Queen Sues Disney/ABC for “Wife Swap” Episode: Claims show “maximize [Guastaferro’s] public embarrassment.”
Teen beauty queen portrayed as spoiled brat on ‘Wife Swap’ files $100M lawsuit
BY Jose Martinez
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
A teen beauty portrayed as a beast on ABC’s “Wife Swap” filed a $100 million lawsuit against the network, charging the reality show is a sham.
Alicia Guastaferro, 18, says she has panic attacks and suicidal tendencies because of her 2008 appearance, in which she memorably berated her mom and sniffed, “I do feel sorry for people that are not gorgeous people.”
The show, which dispatched her mother to another family, made Guastaferro the object of ridicule among her western New York peers and forced her to transfer schools, the suit claims.
In a clip from her episode, Guastaferro was introduced as the “princess of pageantry” as pictures flashed of her in a tiara and pageant gowns.
“If you don’t have the best clothes, the best hair and makeup and the best tan, you’re not gonna win the pageant,” she haughtily said in a trophy-filled room.
The suit says producers ordered Guastaferro to “act a little more spoiled” and staged scenes, including one in which her dad spray-tans her legs. They allegedly even manufactured scenes to make her look bratty, highlighting how her mom supposedly does her homework and keeps a Christmas tree year-round to give her daily presents.
“[Guastaferro] does not receive a present every day,” the suit says.
The blond beauty also objected to a scene in which she snorted at a breakfast delivered by her mother, Karen. “That was not your best cereal,” the teen growls.
Guastaferro claims she has gotten death threats and been assaulted, and went from the honor roll to being a special-ed student after the show aired.
The suit says her mother agreed to be on “Wife Swap” for $20,000, but ABC and Disney never obtained the teen’s consent. A Walt Disney representative could not be reached, and Guastaferro’s lawyer did not return calls.
JODI: First of all my husband and I would like to thank you for this opportunity to discuss with you the need for guidelines and protection for children involved in reality
TV shows. Specifically, we are requesting that this new media format is included into the existing laws that are followed by scripted TV formats. My name is Jodi Kreider and my husband Kevin and I are sitting before you today as both advocates and voices for the children involved in reality TV. We have prepared a brief statement for you designed to outline the issue and provide the critical observations that support our request for immediate action to protect these children. We will also present you some possible solutions for this serious issue. The bottom line is the current laws designed to protect children involved in television production are outdated. They need to be revised to include the new reality format to insure that every child is protected. These children deserve the same legal protection and ethical safeguards provided to children involved in scripted television.
My husband and I are here as first person witnesses to the serious concerns raised and damages resulting from the lack of protection for the children involved in reality TV. My husbands’ sister is Kate Gosselin. Kate, along with her husband Jon, [Jodi chokes up here] and their eight beautiful children, were the stars of TLC’s reality show Jon and Kate Plus 8 for five seasons. What started out as a simple documentary to capture what it was like for a young couple to have one set of twins and one set of sextuplets turned into TLC’s highest rated weekly show. It is very important to make clear that we are not here because of Jon and Kate’s decision to be filmed. We are here because of what we saw, and what we did not see. We saw many concerning safety issues and did not see any safeguards in place to protect these children’s rights.
My husband Kevin and I along with our four children lived right around the corner in the same development as Jon and Kate. We spent a great deal of time enjoying everyday activities and special occasions at each other’s house. Because of our family’s close involvement we were included in some of the first few shows. My husband enjoyed helping Jon with small projects in the garage and I was filmed sometimes when I was looking after the children. My husband will now describe a few of our concerns with actual illustrations.
KEVIN: Our direct involvement with Jon and Kate Plus 8 has provided my wife and I with first-hand observations that will support our view that reality TV needs to follow the same guidelines as scripted TV. I will briefly address eight important concerning issues.
The first, the format was planned and formal. Jon and Kate signed a complicated contract without a lawyer to represent them. Once the contracts are signed the producer sits down with Jon and Kate and develops show content for each episode.
Secondly, the extensive professional filming schedule. Large professional camera lighting equipment was permanently installed in the kitchen, living room, dining areas, all around the house. Their daily routine revolved around the needs of a designed episode, rather than having a crew just follow around their normal routine. A crew included a video camera operator, audio operator, and producer, would follow the children around for and average of two to three days to get enough footage for a half hour episode. What started as a simple 2-hour documentary ended with Jon and Kate producing over a hundred episodes in two years. Just two years.
Thirdly, privacy rights concerns. Video cameras were installed in the children’s bedrooms. These cameras operated continuously in an effort to capture unscripted moments, positive and negative, to provide TV production company with enough clips to fill a half hour episode. The children’s potty training with skin exposed was filmed by camera crews in the children’s bathroom often without a parent present. These scenes were uploaded onto the internet and burned onto the season’s DVDs. The children’s potty training videos still remain to be highly viewed on the internet.
Fourth, the potential psychological damage. One very vivid example comes to mind. The children were told it was Christmas morning. It was so the camera crew could get the genuine reaction of the children. It wasn’t until after, until later, they were told it was not Christmas morning, they just did it for the show. Can you imagine how confused eight little kids were that morning? One child in particular had many outbursts captured on the show. Now media, general public and children at school have labeled her as the difficult or bad one.
Fifth, the lack of adult supervision. The children were often left alone with one or more production crew member without a parent present. These areas include bathroom, bedroom, basement, backyard, only to name a few.
Next, is increased professional demands. The children would voice their dislike for going on studio promotional events to promote the upcoming season or special event. The children would also consider the sit down interview times a chore or something to accomplish so they could resume their playtime. Remember, this is said to be an unscripted reality show. Extra security is hired to protect the children from the media frenzy at their last promotional event in New York City.
Next, lack of financial security. In scripted TV the law states that every child involved in the filming receives financial compensation. This includes an amount that is to be put in an irrevocable trust fund. In reality TV those laws do not exist. There are no rules to provide and protect a child’s financial security. Remember, these shows are created because of these children, and they are the only participants not receiving compensation.
Lastly, elevated personal security risks. TLC provided Kate with a bodyguard due to her high-profile and concern for a large number of unknown people who have voiced their unkind and some disturbing comments about her treatment to her husband that was shown on the TV show. There are many disturbing, disturbing and threatening comments that are posted on newspaper blogs and social media formats against Jon, Kate and their children. There have also been many psychologists who have voiced their concerns, stating, “the act of providing such personal details and images of the children foster inappropriate and misleading ideas to some of the mentally unstable citizens. I’ll now pass it back over to my wife Jodi for some final remarks.
JODI: From my husband’s comments I’m confident you’ll now realize that there is very little reality involved in the production of a reality TV show. The only real thing are the issues and concerns for the non professionals who are involved. We are simply asking that the existing law for scripted TV include reality TV as soon as possible. This is an urgent issue. with production costs much lower, fewer filming restrictions and potential for high profit, the reality TV production companies are now seeking new large families, multiple sets of babies, families in conflict, to contact them for possible future filming. During Jon and Kate’s separation, Jon refused to allow his children to be filmed by reality TV, expressing a new insight from both disturbing comments from people toward his family members and concerning behavior some of his children were exhibiting.
TLC has now announced a new TV show with Kate and her children after she finishes Dancing With the Stars. Our goal is to have the law revised so that not only [Jodi chokes up again] our nieces and nephews will be protected, but for all children who are now or who will be involved in reality TV.
There are some people who view reality TV as an easy way to get fame and fortune. During these tough economic times we are hearing more and more troubling stories about desperate parents doing desperate things. You may have remembered the recent balloon boy story in the news. It wasn’t long ago where parents instructed their young son to be involved in a fabricated story about his son possibly in a runaway homemade balloon. This sparked national media attention and involved a major emergency response. They later admitted they pulled this stunt in the hopes to be contacted by the reality TV production company they had reached out to earlier. It is very important to note that the emergency responders and the public were put at risk responding to this unusual event.
Our suggested solutions to this problem. Number one: Because children are unable to provide informed consent about a decision that has potential to inflict serious harm to their personal development, they should not be allowed to be involved in any reality TV programming.
Secondly, for the children that are currently involved in reality TV production, they should be required to become a member of the Screen Actors Guild, a labor organization whose mission is to negotiate the best possible wages and working conditions for professional actors, even young ones. The Screen Actors Guild represents its members through negotiation and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits and working conditions for the performers, the collection of compensation for exploitation of their recorded performances and protection against unauthorized use. They are provided with guidance to protect their privacy and personal information as well as health and safety issues. Most importantly, the Screen Actors Guild are on set to protect all members especially working children. It is their job to insure that all SAG rules including work hours and safety rules are being followed. When children are on set, the SAG represented is keeping an eye out for the following. Number one, Are the children being asked to work overtime? Or beyond their permitted work hours? Are they getting adequate rest times? Are they being tutored in a safe and effective manner? Have them been asked to do hazardous work? Are they permitting the parents to be in sight and sound of the children at all times? Have they been provided with an appropriate dressing room area?
In closing, reality TV is a powerful media format with the potential for serious personal harm for adults and especially children. There are already harmful personal, private and embarrassing moments that the children cannot defend, delete or erase after they are uploaded on the internet for anyone to watch at the click of a button. Children need to be protected from potential danger. Reality TV has the potential to cause real danger, period. These children deserve the same protections for those involved in scripted TV because they are, after all, only children. With your support the children will be given a voice and provided their right to legal protection in regards to the reality TV industry. Thank you.
REP. MURT: First of all I want to thank you for testifying today Kevin and Jodi, and I hope the committee understands that I requested them to come here, they did not seek me out, I sought them out, so we could learn as much as we possibly could about this concept of reality TV.
PAUL PETERSON: Good morning. My name is Paul Petersen and I have been growing up and growing old with most of you here today. Grandparents may remember me for my brief stay with the original Mouseketeers. Your parents may have watched me on “The Donna Reed Show.” Today’s generation…the consumers of so much of what passes for popular entertainment…may know me because of my advocacy on behalf of the children in Entertainment for the past twenty years through my foundation, A Minor Consideration. That is what brings me here today.
The use and abuse of children in our media is no longer a “Hollywood Problem.” The life-long troubles of former child stars has become a cliché’ with which we are all too familiar. But, the production of commercial entertainment has spread not just throughout this country, but throughout the world…and spread so rapidly that our laws and rules and regulations have not kept pace with the special needs of children exposed to the voracious appetite of our modern media. Complicating this issue of the exploitation of children in entertainment is the incredible development of delivery platforms we now take for granted…the Internet with its staggering social networking sites and unregulated content…downloadable music and films, the traditional platforms of the printed Press, broadcast news and, of course, television. An outside observer will note that many of these delivery systems are actually owned by a just a few very large global conglomerates who routinely use the profits of one division to drive traffic to yet another wholly-owned subsidiary.
So, what is the true status of children working in Entertainment? What is the State’s interest in their labors? What are the risks and perils? There are so many myths surrounding the most visible children in the world that it’s time to look at the facts. Let’s look behind the curtain.
· First, children are the “property” of their parents. They are, literally, owned by the people who bring them into this world. In Common Law the wording is straightforward: “Parents of a working child are entitled to its custody, income and services.”
· Children in Entertainment are exempt from Federal Child Labor Law…and have been since 1938 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. If an individual State does not pass laws governing kids in entertainment, there are no laws to protect this class.
· A Minor is assumed, in Law, to be incapable of Informed Consent, and contracts entered into on their behalf are unenforceable unless approved by a Court.
· The Parent…not the child…is expected to provide for food, clothing, education and shelter. Children who must work for these basic necessities are always at risk.
· PA’s Third Circuit Court in 1985 noted that “the common law rule that minors…may disaffirm their contracts has as its basis the public policy concern that minors should not be bound by mistakes resulting from their immaturity or the overbearance of unscrupulous adults.”
Of all we hear about Child Labor we continue to believe that parents will always do what is best for their off-spring and that actual paying work is a rarity when it comes to children. The Federal Dept. of Labor, however, tells us that 5.5 million children are even now at work in America, most of that number involved in Agriculture…and just like young performers, the kids picking our crops are exempt from federal child labor laws. Today, as I speak, 250 million children are in the world’s work force…most of them underpaid, working to have enough to eat, and easy prey for the so-called adults who are in control of their destiny.
I want to thank Rep Thomas Murt for undertaking this task of examining Pennsylvania’s laws regarding not just children in Entertainment, but the hidden world of working kids. This subject is much larger than most people suspect, and has consequences that stretch far into the future because we are affecting our children’s perceptions of the world they will inherit. We have become far too careless with our kids…with the quality of their education…their broadcast images…and their need for spiritual nourishment and right to privacy.
Nothing in life can compare to the bond between parent and child, and each of us must be mindful of the risks inherent in what some call ‘meddling’ in other people’s business. We must also keep in mind that the rules for children are different…especially when work and money are involved. I have not come to Pennsylvania to point fingers. The events that have played out in the Gosselin family over the past five years have, frankly, defied description, but from my perspective as a person who literally grew up on television I keep coming back to the one unassailable truth…these children, through no fault of their own, are engaged in a commercial enterprise that takes place in their home…a home in which every participating adult is compensated…yet their status has not been determined in Law or in the collective mind of our culture.
The excuses for this absence of common sense reasoning are many. The children are merely participants. Being on camera is easy and not work at all. “Jon and Kate + 8” is just a reality show and the kids aren’t actually performers.
Permit me to gently point out that in the mind of a child these are distinctions without a difference. Children are not Meerkats. They are decidedly not the same as a pride of lions being filmed by a naturalist on an African plain. They are aware…and if you’ll just close your eyes and remember when Dad took out the movie camera to film you playing in the back yard and the way you mugged for the camera…you’ll know to a certainty that even a two year old toddler knows when a camera is present.
Cameras and microphones alter behaviors. The presence of a working film crew alters the dynamics within a home. When money is thrown into an altered reality things can become extremely complicated. For the developing child who finds themselves in the voracious maw of the media there is literally no concept of the life-long consequences they will have to live with for the next sixty, seventy of eighty years of their lives.
Let me blunt about this: There is no Delete button on the internet. Once your identity becomes public there is no going back. Images can be manipulated, and even the most innocent activity can be changed to suit the mind of the consumer of popular entertainment. It is a dangerous world out there, my friends, and all of us need to be constantly reminded that the consequences of fundamentally and publicly altering the life of a growing child will have consequences. Each of us is directly connected to every day or our lives.
I repeat, the rules are different for children. We do not hand an eight year old the keys to the car. Children have bedtimes and rules. Kids are not equipped to deal with things like taxes and salaries, publicity shoots and travel arrangements…and they do not ordinarily have to deal with autograph seekers and fans.
We have long acknowledged the special status of professional children who are paid to deliver a performance…in fact we have come to believe that an entire set of special rules are always in place to guard their welfare and income. Some of the things we believe are that children in the world of entertainment always have a parent or guardian close at hand, that a studio teacher will be provided to ensure that child’s education, that their working hours will be strictly limited and a portion of their income will be set aside for their use when they become an adult.
It’s just not true. I have already mentioned that there is no Federal standard for kids in Entertainment. If an individual State doesn’t pass its own child labor laws for Entertainment there are no laws governing the work place. Today there are still nineteen states, many of them competing for production dollars, which have not gotten around to passing meaningful child labor laws specific to entertainment. Pennsylvania, thankfully, is not one of those States. There are, in fact, laws on the books to protect children in the entertainment industry. The question is, why in the case of the Gosselin Family have they not been enforced?
Special work permits are required by this State for all children under the age of Seven. Provisions for contract approval and even the definition of what constitutes the Employee-Employer relationship are on the books. It’s just too easy to excuse the working reality of television production by believing in the term “Reality Show.” These mislabeled productions are anything but reality. There are writers, producers, publicists and paid production crews. There are hand-crafted stories to tell and do-overs and 2nd takes.
And always…always…there is big money on the table. It is all too easy to forget about the special needs of the children involved in these entertainment products…and I’ll remind everyone that this is nothing new. The Dionne Quintuplets were exposed to this kind of public consumption seventy years ago. The Loud Family was ripped apart by participating in the PBS production of “The American Family.” Even under the best of circumstances the consequences of early fame can have devastating…lethal consequences.
I am painfully aware that the use of juveniles in so-called reality shows is a genie that has long since escaped the bottle. That fact should not prevent us from asking the hard questions or preparing ourselves to intervene when children are put up for sale by even the most well-meaning parent. Here are my concerns:
· What is the share of each child’s participation in these commercial productions?
· Who owns the money these children earn?
· What are the work rules when your home is the studio?
· What independent authority is present to halt production when the welfare of children becomes the issue?
· Is it in the State’s interest to insure that an independent advocate is assigned to protect the separate interests of the working child?
The good news is that we do not have to re-invent the wheel here today. Well tested models already exist. The better news is that with today’s hearing we have collectively recognized the potential for harm that always exist in an unregulated work place that utilizes Minors.
And finally, it is my fondest hope that we send a clear message to all of America’s children that no matter how unique your circumstances may be there will always be people who are prepared to help you prepare for your future with laws, counsel and loving advice. It is our solemn obligation to raise the next generation…to share with them what we know, the lessons we’ve learned, and the rewards of playing by the rules.
As those of you who are parents, grandparents, teachers or coaches know, physical, cognitive, social and emotional capabilities are rapidly changing from the point of birth into adulthood. As such, developmental needs also change as children age. To this point, I will be framing my discussion around the basic developmental tasks at different ages and then connect these tasks with the “realities,” if you will, of reality television.
Infancy and Early Childhood (birth – 3)
In the first few years of life, small children are learning to explore and interact with the world around them. Critical to this task are the social relationships children form with their primary caretakers. Specifically, children develop early attachment to their parents that allow them to safely and comfortably explore their world. Securely attached children are those who have learned that their primary caregiver will be there consistently; a securely attached child can trust that even when mom leaves the room or is out of sight, she will reliably be there to respond to his needs. Children whose caregivers are unreliable, inconsistent or abusive develop early problems with attachment that relate to a number of negative long-term outcomes. As such, stable and reliable care is critical to the development of strong emotional bonds that can form the basis for future success.
In addition to forming emotional bonds with their caretakers, small children also learn how to communicate and regulate their emotions through referencing their caretakers. For example, a child who is trying to understand how to act in a situation that is new or ambiguous will look to those around her to learn how she should respond. Indeed, this is why experienced parents know not to scream, “Oh no!” and look panicked when a child falls down!
Finally, young children are beginning to learn how to control their own behavior. Over time, parental expectations are internalized and even when the primary caregivers are not around children will follow the rules established in the home. Critical to this learning is the interaction between parent and child. Just as with attachment and emotional development, rule-based learning requires consistent parental feedback and ongoing, mutual interactions between parent and child.
Given the developmental need for consistent and reliable parent-child interaction during the early years, how might taking part in reality television shows relate to child development?
First, one often hears parents of children in reality television shows indicating that the purpose of their participation is to support the family in a way that allows the parents to stay home with the children vs. working outside of the home. Parents might also feel that the show provides opportunities for children to explore the world in a way that the family would not have been able to afford before, such as family vacations and other child-friendly activities. Indeed, this might be a very real and notable benefit of such a lifestyle.
On the other hand, the quality and format of the increases in “family time” must also be considered. For example, a parent’s ability to form a stable attachment with his child might be challenged by the realities of a family life made public. Increased demands from the general public, the need to travel for the show, and the general disruption in everyday activities related to the television show can interfere with the caregivers’ ability to provide consistent, reliable and responsive care. Of course this is a concern of any family with parents that might travel for work or otherwise have a career that is outside of typical work parameters. However, the all-encompassing nature of reality television and the constant public demands of celebrity families can blur the line between work and home and make these concerns more acute and pervasive for families featured in reality television.
Further blurring this line is the presence of cameras, microphones, and production people into the family home. This necessity of reality television has the potential to create an atmosphere that challenges the child’s need for consistency both in terms of parents’ time as well as routine, rules and expectations. Although reality television show families are depicted as going about “life as usual,” those who make decisions related to production (e.g., taping schedules, number of cameras, rules regarding when cameras will be turned on/off) must recognize that these factors also become aspects of the children’s daily lives and can interfere greatly with the normal routine and expectations of a household, particularly if not closely regulated.
On a related note, the role of the individuals behind the camera can be confusing to children and provide them with inconsistent feedback on their own behavior as well as their general schema of appropriate social interactions. For example: Do cameramen laugh with children when something is funny? Correct incorrect grammar? Pick them up when they fall? One must also take care to determine how inappropriate behaviors that might make “better television” are encouraged or discouraged by either parents or the individuals involved in producing the show.
School Age (4-10)
Children enter another rapid stage of growth when they start school. Significant changes in physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development during this time are strongly impacted by children’s relationships with their parents and peers. Self-esteem and efficacy across domains also take on new importance, as children expand their experience, knowledge and relationships in the world outside of their immediate family.
Peers take on heightened importance during the school-age years. Children begin to have real friends (vs. mere playmates) and interactions with peers can influence all aspects of development. Through both friendships and conflict with peers, children learn leadership, communication, cooperation, and problem-solving skills. They learn how to read social situations and develop a repertoire of appropriate responses. Although adults are critical during this period, children’s own negotiations of group and relationship issues (from deciding who gets to go first to choosing how to respond when a classmate says: “you’re not my friend anymore!”) facilitate the development of information processing skills and behavioral repertoires that form the basis for future relationships.
One cannot discuss peer influence without highlighting the increase in aggression and bullying that occurs during middle-childhood and continues into the teenage years. Indeed, most children are involved at some time in some type of physical, verbal, or social aggression, with a portion of these children experiencing these things to an extreme degree. Advances in modern technology have also brought concerns about bullying and aggression to a whole new level, as children can now communicate immediately and even anonymously with hundreds if not thousands of other youth at a time. Subsequent surges in rumor-spreading, name-calling, insults, and other aspects of cyber-bullying have led to grave concerns about the mental health of children who are the victims of these activities, including a number of suicides that have been directly linked to these behaviors.
Outside of social networking, the setting where most children experience intensive socialization experiences is school. As we all know, schools are not simply for “reading, writing and arithmetic,” but actually serve as a major formative experience in life. In addition to social development, school is a setting where children begin to develop a sense of themselves as valuable and valued contributors with a range of competencies. It is critical that parents support this development by establishing a home environment that promotes the importance of learning, and continually engaging their child in discussion about school life.
Given the developmental need for self-efficacy, friendship and affiliation, and social and emotional processing skills during the school-age years, how might taking part in reality television shows relate to development during this life stage?
Unlike situations with child actors and performers who often receive their schooling from and on-set tutor, children in reality television shows spend much of their time at the family home (which is now also the “workplace”) and continue to attend their local school. However, this might not be true in the case where children travel to take part in reality shows centered on competitions, take trips relate to the television show during the academic year, or are removed from public school due to social problems or concerns about safety, stemming from the increasingly public nature of their lives.
In general, it is critical that children maintain a consistent routine that minimizes any disruption in school attendance and related activities. Even if a child is maintaining their academic achievement, if they are not experiencing the other social-emotional benefits of the school-setting (such as learning to interact with peers, participating in a range of activities, developing a sense of their relative strengths and achievements) then their developmental needs can be compromised. If this cannot be met through traditional schooling, care must be taken to meet these varied needs elsewhere, for example through enrolling students in community clubs or sports teams.
In addition to ensuring that the range of physical, cognitive, and social experiences typically provided in the school setting are met, school should continue to serve as a major factor in the lives of children in television. Although children on reality shows might be distracted by the myriad of people and activities in their household and related to the show in general, it is critical that they have established study times, clear bedtimes on school nights, and encouragement and emphasis on the value and importance of school.
Normative social development might also be compromised for children on reality television shows due to the lack of privacy related to family life. Home for children should serve as a “safe haven” where children can process their experiences in the outside world, enjoy one-on-one time with parents and siblings, and rest and rejuvenate for the next day. While children on reality television shows might be able to achieve this, it would seem that this could only be done through a strong commitment to have the cameras around only for limited and structured time periods, with sufficient time for the family to interact in private and for children to do homework, bathe and sleep without disruption. In other words, a clear delineation should be made between “house as home” and “house as workplace.”
Ironically, as the lives of reality show participants become more public, they might actually become or feel more isolated. Thus, as family outings to the grocery store become an event featured on the evening entertainment news and personal conversations with friends and family members end up on the covers of magazines, these families can find themselves increasingly isolated from friends, family, and even the ordinary activities of daily living. Thus, just when children are exploring the outside world and learning how to form new relationships, they can be bombarded with experiences that betray their trust and stymie their growth as individuals in society.
A final issue related to this lack of privacy is that of cyberspace. We live in an increasingly public world where blogs, celebrity gossip sites and other electronic venues for commentary, speculation, and judgment are prolific. Even mainstream online news publications often have a section after each article where readers can anonymously post their opinions and views of the story and the people in it. Thus, not only are children in the public eye subject to the same pressures and situations of their non-public peers, they are also subject to the constant commentary and views of a society where sharing your opinions is the norm and where strangers might feel justified in sharing their views on issues related to family members or the family’s choice to be in the public eye. The public might also view the family as distant, unreal, and even immune to their scrutiny, thus increasing their willingness to say whatever is on their minds, regardless of the impact on the family. This problem can become even more profound during the adolescent years, which I will discuss now.
Mere mention of the term “teenager” can conjure up images of youth and families in turmoil. Thus, dramatic physical, cognitive, and social changes can lead to an increase in high-risk behavior, mental health problems, and family conflict. First, the onset of sexual maturation puts adolescents at a critical stage of life physically. Physical changes combined with a peak in the importance of peer judgment and acceptance can then set the stage for distress over personal attributes, such as body image, which can lead to the development of eating disorders or steroid use.
Cognitively, the part of the brain related to higher-order thinking and planning is continuing to develop during adolescence. Consequently, teenagers who desire or are given greater responsibility and independence are not yet fully equipped to make optimal decisions on their own. As such, it is critical that adults help adolescents think through life choices and experiences, while not stripping them of their autonomy.
Finally, adolescence is considered a critical time for identity development where youth must develop a sense of themselves both as individuals and in relation to others, as well as a larger understanding of their “place in the world.” While most youth remain connected to the values and beliefs of their parents throughout adolescence, the striving for independence and the increase in peer influence requires a delicate balancing act on the part of both parents and teens.
Given the many changes that take place during adolescence and the developmental need to form a sense of oneself, one’s relationships with others and one’s place in the world, how might taking part in reality television shows relate to adolescent developmental needs?
When considering the roles, rules, and responsibilities related to children in reality television, we often put teenagers in a category more in line with adults. Thus, we tend to place decision-making authority in the hands of the teen and parental involvement becomes less paramount. This is parallel to other aspects of life, my own field included, where circumstances can allow for teens to make decisions about their own medical care, for example. Although parents are often involved, it is generally believed that teenagers are more advanced than younger children in terms of their abilities, rights, and responsibilities. However, the developmental needs and capabilities of adolescence highlights the need to carefully consider this approach.
First, our knowledge of cognitive development tells us that adolescents make better decisions in collaboration with adults than they do on their own. This might be particularly relevant in the case of reality television, where a teenager might be enamored by the idea of being in the public eye, while not having the foresight to recognize the potential long-term consequences. For example, the increased public scrutiny discussed earlier can be even more pronounced and more devastating during the teenage years. Thus, not only do these teens live with the pressure and judgment of their friends and classmates, but they also receive judgment and commentary from complete strangers across the nation, or even the world. In such an environment, important areas of vulnerability during adolescence—such as self-esteem and body image—can be exponentially magnified.
Even if teens on television are able to escape negative attention from the public, they might be impacted in other ways by the reality that fame brings them and their family. Increased narcissism (“Everybody cares about me and what I’m doing.”; already a common characteristic of adolescence), difficulty with trust (“Is she my friend because I’m on TV or because she really likes me?”), and a confused sense of one’s place in the world (“Who am I outside of this show and what do I do when the show ends?”) might each be outcomes for adolescents living in the public eye.
In conclusion, it is clear that the cognitive, social and emotional needs across the different phases of childhood require that we as adults take great care in establishing an environment that helps promote positive development and prevent negative outcomes in all children. In terms of reality television, specifically, children do not have the experience or skills to deal with the additional decisions and repercussions of living in the public eye that we as adults do (or should). Further, the nature of television—to entertain—is such that the families that are chosen to appear in reality television programs are often from high risk groups to begin with, e.g., families with children who are exhibiting significant behavior problems, homes with a parent who is a celebrity prior to the show, or families with a large number of children. Thus, it is imperative that we build protective factors – including mechanisms to promote close family relationships, positive peer interactions, and a strong education – into the structure of these children’s lives, so as to minimize risk and optimize positive development.
Although one might not say conclusively that children should or should not participate in reality shows or television in general, if these shows are to take place, great care should be taken to produce them in such a way that puts the developmental needs of children and adolescents first.