There are numerous reality shows, in this day and age, that feature children and seem to display the moral that the more offensive, controversial, and absurd someone can be, the better. “Toddlers & Tiaras”, “Dance Moms”, and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” stand out as having complete disregard for the mental health and well being of their young participants and the viewing audience. “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Moms” offer an incentive of 15 minutes of fame for getting pregnant as a minor, with no consideration of the exposure and ridicule that the shows will incite upon the young mothers and their newborns. I recently sent a letter to the First Lady, and I will make the same appeal to you as I made to her:
…These shows make a mockery of the participants and they accept the abuse eagerly, for the minute of fame. I believe that adults have the right to behave like utter fools, but I don’t think that they should be allowed to make the same choices for their children, who studies have shown do not have the ability to fully understand the consequences of their actions.
Aside from the potential dangers of stalkers and pedophiles that the sexualization on these shows could incite, there is also the basic risk of too much exposure too soon. There are countless examples of child stars that develop drinking and drug problems and exhibit reckless behavior that is difficult or impossible to overcome. I grant that there are also success stories, but those children have remained grounded, had a good support system, and/or have their own strong sense of what is best for them. The kids on these new reality shows are being treated as public property and it is the parent’s or other caregiver’s job to provide stability. Yet, I rarely see this happen, but instead see: Winning is the goal; Beauty, fame, and fortune are the only things that will provide a happy, fulfilling life; No matter how hard you try, it is not good enough. You have to be the best; and Dressing a toddler like a prostitute, having her pretend to smoke a cigarette, or padding her boobs and butt to make her look like Dolly Parton are completely acceptable actions, if it has the potential to make you the winner.
As if the futures of these children are not enough, we also have to think of the message that we are sending the youth, who are watching these shows: Get pregnant as a teen and, maybe, you can get on television; Success is more important than civility; Melodrama, fights, and shouting matches are good entertainment; Being declared beautiful is the most important goal of life; and You can behave like a jerk, be disrespectful and downright mean, with no fear of a reprimand, as long as you can win. These lessons are not what we want to be sending to the future leaders of our country.
We, apparently, cannot count on the producers of these shows or the parents of these children to have a moral compass. We need guidelines to be set in place to protect children from exploitation. I do not want to ban these shows, only set limits on how far they can go. "Free Speech" should not mean a free pass to abuse a child's trust and dependency on the adults, who are supposed to be protecting them. I understand that, when new fads or products are introduced into our society, it takes some time before the laws, restrictions, and protections catch up with technology. As with texting while driving, once enough people were killed or injured, causing enough people to make noise, laws started to be set into place. Please help me make noise...
In my own attempt to make noise, I have sent similar letters to the President, Senators, and Representatives asking for help. I have either been ignored, received form letters, or been told that “Freedom of Speech” protects the material on these shows. I submitted complaints to the FCC, which informed me that non-broadcast channels are not their jurisdiction and to contact my cable company. I contacted Comcast and they claimed that they only “pick up the signal and distribute it.” Their response to my 2nd email, pointing out that a drug dealer simply picks up drugs and distributes them, directed me to the networks to complain. TLC sent me a standard form letter, thanking me for my feedback, and I have not received a response from MTV, yet. Sponsors of the shows insist that they do not endorse the shows that they advertise on, and never responded to my replies, stating that sponsors pulling ads from controversial shows was by no means unheard of.
Fortunately, there has been some recent progress on this issue. The 3rd link, below, is a copy of House Bill No. 1548, an amendment that passed the expansion of PA child labor laws to include reality television. This change is a great start to fixing the problem. Please see section 5 of the amendment, which refers expressly to “Employment of minors in a performance” (line 27, page 30).
The additional links below include my page, which I created to get the word out and build support, and the United States Department of Labor’s Table of Child Entertainment Provisions, listed alphabetically by state. If you know of anyone, who is already active on this topic or could be helpful to me, please contact me. I welcome any support or suggestions. I hope I can count on you to help me protect minors from sexualization, exploitation, and abuse.