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 The bottom line is the current laws designed to protect children involved in television production are outdated.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.
The Bad Made Worse (posted December 8th 2009)
The Learning Channel’s announcement that “Jon & Kate + 8” would be replaced by yet another family living under the lights and cameras of reality programming gone mad…this one called “Table for Twelve” with sextuplets and two sets of twins…should surprise no one. In the absence of shame all conduct is excusable.
Jon Gosselin’s counter-suit against TLC should serve as a warning to the Hayes Family of New Jersey. Jon and Kate sold their family for a song and didn’t even know that child labor laws applied, something TLC conveniently neglected to tell them. Naiveté’ and ignorance of child labor laws will most certainly be exploited by major broadcast companies. It’s in their interest to keep you in the dark when they profit from the unpaid labor of twelve children. Here’s a tip: There most certainly ARE child labor laws in New Jersey specific to Entertainment…just like in Pennsylvania…and pretending that the children are just “participants” will not prevent the Piper from asking to be paid.
You owe it to your children to become informed about the world you are entering, Mr. and Mrs. Hayes. The Industry is not obligated to educate you. In fact, it is in the Industry’s economic interest to keep you in the dark as long as possible.
A Minor Consideration and its allies are not going to go away. The moral imperative is to do what is right for the children…now, before the trouble starts…because the Day of Reckoning will be brutal when the children reach the Age of Majority. If the contracts signed on behalf of Minors have not been reviewed by competent legal council acting solely on behalf of the minors, and these contracts are not subject to Court Approval, all of these reality show Minors will have the Common Law right to assert Disaffirmance and sue for recovery.
Children are not amusements.
A Social Experiment That Needs To End
Children Before Outcomes
October 20, 2009
A thoughtful supporter of A Minor Consideration, Elizabeth Miller of Atlanta, Georgia, wrote to us on our Facebook page to ask if these children on reality shows aren’t more closely related to kids involved in medical research studies…and if they are, why aren’t the same ethical standards used to protect them?
In medical research, if a researcher has cause to believe that harm will come to a child involved in a medical study the project must be shut down.
“Children before Outcomes.” What a concept. Is it too much to ask that entertainment executives be held to that same standard the instant they hear a “pitch” that involves children?
Just when you think you’ve seen everything, along comes Balloon Boy. If the sight of a six year-old vomiting victim, Falcon Heene, torn between truth and parental deception, isn’t enough to shut down the reality show industry that is so wantonly exploiting children, then I don’t know what it will take.
Don’t you see the path we’re on? What a terrible time to be a child in America. No one can take comfort in telling themselves they would never expose their own children to this sort of entertainment drivel because the alarming truth is the message is being spread to children all over this country in unmistakable fashion.
If your dysfunctional parents want to sell you out, you are on the market and your Right to Privacy be damned.
Forget the Law or basic morality. The adults charged with protecting you are in it for themselves, not you.
Paychecks and pensions mean more to grown-ups than your welfare, even if it means ignoring existing law and regulations.
If the media can gain a ratings point or two, you, my child, are completely unprotected. Everyone will be paid, but you won’t be.
The Fox Special “Unseen Footage”
“The California Department of Labor levied four citations and fines to RadarOnLine for the single night of March 17th 2009 when the first two octuplets came home with Nadya, their faces covered to protect the exclusive provisions of a contract entered into guaranteeing exclusivity to RadarOnLine. The first two babies were then subjected to video taping well after the two narrow hourly windows permitted under California Law. RadarOnLine, operating in a “pay for play” environment and not as a legitimate member of a Free Press, had not obtained the required “Permit to Employ Minors” and the Labor Department correctly ruled that the premature infants were, in fact, contracted employees in every sense of the word.
Eleven years ago my wife and I literally wrote and passed the law that governs the use of Premature Infants in the world of entertainment in California. My wife, Rana Platz-Petersen, is both a Registered Nurse and the Business Representative of Studio First Aid, Local 767, IATSE, the union which supplies all medical personnel, including Baby Nurses, in the eleven western States on signatory productions. Briefly, premature infants are not permitted to be employed until they are Full Term, at Full Birth Weight, plus fifteen days, and released for employment by a licensed pediatrician by a signed certification, and the infants are then eligible to apply for a Work Permit.
Furthermore, to protect these especially fragile new-borns, the Law requires one Registered Nurse and one state-credentialed welfare worker for every three babies up to the age of six weeks, and one studio teacher/welfare worker and one registered nurse for every ten infants from six weeks to six months old. These rules are readily available to anyone concerned about the welfare of infants exposed to the entertainment industry in California on the Department of Labor’s website.
On January 1st 2000 the much misunderstood Coogan Law, which only exists in California, was amended through the efforts of dozens of former kid stars who belong to the foundation my wife and I created in 1990, A Minor Consideration with the full cooperation of the theatrical unions and the largest producer’s association, the AMPTP. The new Coogan Law was expanded to cover all minors in Entertainment, changed the antiquated rules that permitted parents to literally own the income of their children, so that minors could actually own the fruits of their own labor, and a percentage of their separate income would be set-aside in a Coogan Account and available to these children on their 18th birthday.
It was with full awareness of the rules governing the California work place that I watched last night’s telecast of the “Unseen Footage” on the Fox Network. I was appalled by the chaotic atmosphere captured by the ever-present RadarOnLine film crew. A commercial enterprise is underway in the Suleman household in direct violation of the California child labor laws involving all fourteen children. The images and sounds of last night’s broadcast will never go away. Never. Worse, even more such images are forthcoming.
Even more chilling for me is the awareness that other children working in states outside California are being subjected to similar exposure that will, I promise you, have life-long consequences. Most of the children employed in so-called reality shows do not have California’s protections, which last night we observed in the breech, and it is a national disgrace that children employed in entertainment are exempt from federal child labor laws and have been since 1938 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
I am ashamed by the Industry that raised me. I am ashamed of the national media that is now trafficking in the images of children who are incapable of providing Informed Consent and do not have the power to disobey.
My wife and I have played by the rules, even passing meaningful legislation at great personal and professional cost. Today is a day of reckoning. Surely someone on Capitol Hill or living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue watched last night’s broadcast. I am pleading with you to fix this, for if you cannot protect the most visible children in the world from what we saw last night then everything else you have to say from Health Care to the National Debt is meaningless because your silence means that the promise of childhood in America is dead.”
Founder and President,
A Minor Consideration
I’ve never heard of this small publication called the Chicago Sun-Times but I’m assuming they are considered reliable. Are they a tabloid? Are they up to the journalistic integrity of a publication such as the great People magazine? I don’t know but I don’t think anybody who make comments about Kate’s behavior was “jelus” or “out to bring her down. Some people just see her for what she is. A major bitch.
Considering TV reality star Kate Gosselin’s latest round of media interviews is orchestrated to rehabilitate her tarnished image as a mother — and even as a human being — it didn’t start out so well on the “Today” show this morning.
Kate Gosselin is interviewed on the NBC “Today” television program on Monday.
Sources from the “Today” staff tell me Gosselin was not the most pleasant person to be around on Monday. In fact, she was ‘‘a total b—-’’ to virtually everyone, said a longtime NBC staffer. ‘‘We get virtually all of the world’s biggest egos coming through here,’’ added the source. ‘‘But Kate was one of the most unpleasant I’ve seen in working here for many years.’’
Another staff member also said that when Gosselin learned there was a chance the cameras might catch sight of the large entourage accompanying her (likely to illustrate how much her life has changed becoming a celebrity on the troubled reality show ‘‘Jon & Kate Plus Eight’’), ‘‘she strongly hinted she would walk off the show,” before the interview with Today co-host Meredith Vieira.
The final note: As Gosselin was departing the “Today” set at NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters in New York, she was overheard trashing Vieira. ‘‘Which is even more crazy,’’ added the second source. ‘‘Meredith very clearly, and in a straightforward way, asked exactly the questions you’d expect. She asked about the alleged affair with her bodyguard — which really seemed to piss [Kate] off, her relationship with Jon, how her kids were doing and whether ‘if you could do it over again, would you?’ ’’
‘‘She was swearing like a drunken sailor as she stormed out,’’ added the “Today” insider.
Why oh why couldn’t someone have gotten THAT on film? She doesn’t like questions? DON’T GO ON AN INTERVIEW SHOW YOU STUPID FUCKING BITCH! I’m so sick of her and I hope she just sealed up her last minute in this prolonged 15 minutes of fame she thinks she’s entitled to. I heard Jon canceled his appearance on E! WAY TO GO, JON. Silence is the best response at this time. Let the bitch be herself.
July 26, 2009
The news for kids in the entertainment business is filled with alarming stories, led by the continuing inability of the State of Pennsylvania to render a decision as to the status of the eight Gosselin children who make up 4/5th of the cast of “Jon & Kate +8,” a show due to end its hiatus on August 3rd 2009 and resume production shortly thereafter. After the media circus that took place in New York City over the past weekend that saw the Gosselin children dragged through hordes of paparazzi over a span of more than eight hours to promote TLC’s programming, a reasonable person might conclude that there is no one in authority at TLC to end the serial abuse of reality show kids. In brief, are the Gosselin Kids working, or not? If they’re not working, why is everyone else in the Gosselin home-studio being paid?
In far off India, a nation stung by the sorry tale of two young workers in the film business, that nation’s Supreme Court has ruled that employers who willfully put minor-age workers at risk in any industry will be subject to fines of up to One Million Dollars (US).
Finally, in a tacit admission that they really didn’t know what they were doing, the attorneys representing Nadya Suleman who is popularly known as “Octo-Mom” have filed actual employment contracts for the Octuplets, and are asking for Court Approval. Left unasked and unanswered are two critical questions: 1. What were the octuplets paid from January 27th 2009 to the date of the court filing, July 24th 2009? And 2, Where are the fourteen children’s work permits and when were they issued? Readers familiar with the issues raised in these pages already know that all of the children on these reality shows share the risks of their professional counter-parts. Saying that these infants are not the same as professional young performers is a distinction without a difference.
“Children can’t give consent. Only parents can — and these shows don’t cast adults with a high level of mental health.”
By Dominic Patten
There’s a scene in “Bruno” where Sacha Baron Cohen holds an audition for the “hottest baby photo shoot ever.” The intent is to reveal how fame-seeking parents will agree to anything — including putting their babies in fast cars without a car seat or next to “dead or dying animals” — to get their toddlers on camera.
It would be astonishing … if it hadn’t already become so common on the small screen.
On shows such as “Supernanny,” “Wife Swap,” “Denise Richards — It’s Complicated,” “My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad,” and “Kid Nation” and others, the harmful effects that come from constantly being on camera at a young age is becoming a matter of concern to child-care professionals and even fans of some shows.
And did we mention “Jon & Kate Plus 8”?
Even in this tabloid era, the disintegration of the Gosselins’ marriage and the effect the TLC show and the media attention is having on the couple’s young sextuplets and twins has family and show followers warning that things have gone too far.
Kate’s brother and her sister-in-law, Kevin and Jodi Krieder, both of whom have appeared on the show, recently told CBS that they believed the children are “being exploited” by parents obsessed with “fame and the fortune.”
While empirical data to gauge the effect of nonstop media exposure on children is hard to come by, the anecdotal evidence doesn’t look good — even if the ratings are great.
* Paul and Susan Young accused “Supernanny” producers of encouraging their five sons to exaggerate their unruly behavior for the cameras on the U.K. version of the series in 2005. “They left us with children that were more naughty than when they arrived,” the mother told the British press. The fact that the Young’s house might have been burned down by one of the children in 2007 certainly didn’t help.
* “The Real Housewives of Orange County’s” Gina DeLeon believes that appearing on the show had “a devastating effect” for her children, who were not on the show initially. When series regular Laurie Waring hooked up with Gina’s ex-husband George Peterson on season 2, he wanted to the kids to join him in front of the cameras. “They begged not to be on it,” DeLeon told TheWrap, but “George forced them to do it.” DeLeon added that the children “got teased and bullied at school, it was not a pleasant or growing experience for them.”
* Professionals like Charlie Sheen and Pamela Anderson have consciously kept their children off their reality TV excursions. Sheen even fought an unsuccessful legal battle to keep his young daughters off his ex-wife Denise Richard’s E! series. (For more on celebrity reality TV shows and children, see accompanying story.)
“These shows can open the kids to a level of public scrutiny, of shame and of failure,” notes Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of VH-1’s “Celeb Rehab and co-author of “The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America.” “You have to ask yourself if that is conducive to positive outcomes as they get older.”
Pinsky puts the responsibility on the parents and the producers.
“Children can’t give informed consent by definition, only the parents can do that — and reality shows generally don’t cast adults who have the highest level of mental health. They are severe narcissists who are obsessed with celebrity.”
“The permanency of the images of the children potty training, bathing and having temper tantrums on camera will open them up to derision and bullying as they get older,” says Paul Peterson, who starred in “The Donna Reed Show” in the late 50s and 60s.
For Peterson — who with his nonprofit group A Minor Consideration has been a long-time advocate of safeguarding Hollywood’s on-camera children — long-term pain is the likely consequence of short-term fame.
“Down the line, once the show is over and the cameras have gone,” he asserts, “there will likely be no help for them from predators and others seeking to take advantage of them.”
There is, however, some possible help on the way. “Jon & Kate Plus 8’s” treatment of the Gosselin children is now being investigated by the Pennsylvania Labor Department.
“We received a complaint, and an investigator has been assigned,” Department spokesman Troy Thompson told TheWrap. “Now we’re reviewing the case, which means interviewing the principles, interviewing anyone who has information and going over the company documents.”
At the core of the investigation is whether the Gosselins’ Wernersville, Penn., home constitutes a formal TV set, where the children are being instructed and directed. If so, it would bring the production under the state’s child labor laws.
If not — if it’s considered merely a domestic environment where they are being observed and filmed with little direct interaction with producers and crew – the state would have no grounds for violation, and the investigation will be closed.
The immediate consequences could be a fine — which, according to the state’s laws, can range from $200 to $1,500 — or “to undergo an imprisonment of not more than 10 days, or both, at the discretion of the court.” (For reality shows under fire, see accompanying story.)
TLC put out a statement on May 29, when the investigation became public, stating that it and Jon & Kate Plus 8 “fully complies with all applicable laws and regulations.” Attempts by TheWrap to contact Figure 8 Film and TLC were met with “no comment.”
This is not the first time that the regional authorities have taken a look at the realities children deal with on reality shows. In 2007, CBS’ “Kid Nation,” where children ranging from 8 to 15 competed in the establishment of a non-adult-supervised society, was investigated by a number of departments in New Mexico for playing fast and loose with the rules and safety.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, in whose jurisdiction an on-set grease accident occurred, followed up on the victim’s parent’s claim that the program reflected an unsafe environment and disregard for labor laws. The state of New Mexico itself threatened to get involved with the show for the hours that children were in front of the cameras.
Ultimately, the state dropped its efforts, citing not having received a formal complaint.
As for Jon and Kate, the show went on immediate broadcast hiatus after the couple’s separation announcement and divorce filing. It’s not expected back on the air until Aug. 4 — if it reappears at all.
The couple did put on a united face on Independence Day for a family July 4th picnic at their home, seemingly unperturbed by their estrangement or the Pennsylvania Labor department’s investigation.
“No one can act like this is unknown, we have history here,” Paul Peterson told TheWrap. “When Danny Bonaduce, who knows the ways of this biz, allowed cameras into his life, it destroyed his marriage. It destroyed the Loud family back in the 1970s. Now it’s destroyed Jon and Kate’s family.”
“If you these children get in trouble in 20 years you can be sure they’ll be known as one of those kids from ‘Jon & Kate Plus 8,’ ” cautions Peterson. “That will define them.”
Waiting for the Phone to Ring
What can explain the failure of folks to make use of the communications tools as close as their computer or telephone? Is it just me, or do others wonder why the higher-ups at TLC, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, or the so-called professionals surrounding Nadya Suleman can’t bring themselves to pick up the telephone and call A Minor Consideration?
Is there some reason the team around Jon and Kate just can’t see their way clear to involving the premiere experts in the totality of the risks unique to children in entertainment?
Is it guilt or fear? Those are poor excuses when the welfare of dozens of children is at stake.
It is absolutely clear that mistakes have been made by parents and production companies alike, and that whatever advice and counsel may have been sought has been sickeningly misguided.
It is the height of corporate irresponsibility to employ children in profit-making endeavors and pretend that there are no consequences…now or in the future.
Generations of parents who exposed their flesh-and-blood to celebrity have learned to their sorrow that they didn’t know best.
State labor officials need to recognize how dangerous their lack of knowledge of the production process can be when children are employed, especially in reality shows, which are all show and no reality.
The legal advisors to those named above might want to take a look at the principle of Disaffirmance, for I can promise you that when the kids you are employing get around to calling us on their 18th birthday every dollar you think you saved by not treating them fairly will be multiplied a hundred-fold.
Count on it.
A Minor Consideration does not engage in “I told you so” if that is your concern. We deal in the present and the future as only we know it.
There is no excuse for child abuse.
And finally, if there is anyone in the White House who wants to know how the $68 million dollars committed to global child labor the President just announced might be better spent right here at home, you’re welcome to call, too.
Time to read this again. I encourage all to contact Mr. Peterson.
Time to Exit, Jon & Kate
August 27, 2008
The future of the “Plus Eight” is the real issue, Jon and Kate, and it’s time for you to listen. Your children are changing right before our eyes, and all of the changes aren’t healthy.
Consider us your Fire Alarm. The “former kid stars” that belong to AMC know this world better than anyone. We were very tolerant when “Jon and Kate + 8” first started, intrigued and sympathetic as we witnessed a loving mad house struggling to cope with an almost unimaginable blessing.
But, you know the old curse, “Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.” Raising children is not theater, and we don’t care how much money is on the table. Little kids need secrets and silences, especially as they enter the world of schooling and making new friends.
Please examine the motives of all the people who give you advice and stand to make a buck off your children…including yourselves…especially you two. Not all change is good. For those of us who know what to look for, Fame has a subtle but corrupting effect on everyone it touches, and it has touched your children…and you.
It’s not too late to limit the damage. Remove the cameras from your house, dismiss the film crew and tell them thanks. Whatever deals you have made can be undone, and we have the lawyers to help you. Disavow any and all contracts.
What started as a documentary has turned into dangerous distortion of childhood, parenting, and what passes for acceptable risk in the age of the Internet. The bulls-eyes you have painted on the foreheads of your children will only grow larger with time.
Parenting is not now nor has it ever been a spectator sport.