Friday, August 24th, 2007 at 2:18 pm in Kid Nation.
Reality television has gone too far. In the spring, CBS taped “Kid Nation,” a reality show in which 40 children, ages 8 to 15, try to build a society for 40 days alone in a New Mexico desert “ghost town.” That’s right — no parental supervision. (Adults were on hand, CBS says. But they were only supposed to intervene in emergencies.)
Officials in New Mexico are investigating whether CBS and the show’s producers broke state laws. The show never obtained work permits for the kids and allegedly refused set access to a state inspector. CBS lawyers argue the kids weren’t employees, just participants.
We will let those two duke it out. Our censure is for the parents who exploited and endangered their children. Worst yet, they did so knowingly. Proof of that is in the 22-page contract in which they signed away the rights and potentially the lives of their children.
Child abuse, according to Medline Plus, is “doing something or failing to do something that results in harm to a child or puts a child at risk of harm.” How’s this for risk? Four children needed medical attention after accidentally drinking bleach. Another one’s face was burned by hot grease. And the kids worked 14 hours or longer per day during the 40-day production. (That’s well above New Mexico’s 18-hour a week limit for kids 14 and under on school days.) Truancy also was at issue because, unlike with child actors, there were no tutors; parents had to arrange for their kids to make up school work post-production.
Most glaring of all, the parents willingly exposed their children to even greater risk. When they signed the contract, they waived their right to sue the network if their child died, was severely injured or contracted a sexually transmitted disease during production. More than two dozen times, the contract points out that the children might be “killed, injured or harmed.” Parents had no control over what they ate or drank, where they slept, what activities they participated in. Sure, they or the kids could discontinued participation at any time — and forfeit the $5,000 stipend or prize money/bonuses of up to $20,000.
They signed over medical conditions for their children to producers, who in the same contract refused to guarantee the training or skill of those administering medical attention. They stripped their children of all privacy, except when they were using the bathroom (as long as they were actually showering, bathing, urinating or defecating — how exactly was that determined?). They agreed to deny their children contact with family and friends for the production’s duration even though, as the contract stipulated, “These conditions may expose the Minor and/or me to severe mental stress.” What’s more, they made these decisions for their children — repeatedly the contract states, “I acknowledge that I must assume the risk, on behalf of the Minor and myself.”
One parent complained in a letter about abuse. Her daughter was the one splattered by grease. She was also badly sunburned. The other kids and parents have nothing but praise for the “learning” experience. And that’s alarming, because glowing reviews might convince other parents to sign away their kids — CBS is taking applications for a “Kid Nation 2″ — and next time all those what-ifs that CBS and the producers outlined in the contract could actually happen. Wringing your hands after the fact cannot undo the lasting effects of abuse. How can any “learning” experience be worth the potential loss of life of one’s own child?
— Ann Tatko-Peterson
“Kid Nation” promo from CBS