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BABY BORROWERS: Much needed lesson on teen parenthood

By Ann Tatko-Peterson
Wednesday, June 25th, 2008 at 6:05 am in Baby Borrowers.

logoThe provocative and somewhat controversial new reality show “Baby Borrowers” hits NBC tonight at 9 p.m. Tongues started wagging — mine included — even before the episodes were released to anyone for viewing. The premise: Take five teenage couples contemplating parenthood and give them a first-hand, albeit fast-tracked, look at raising real babies, toddlers, preteens, teens and even elderly “parents.” The shock value: Real babies! What parents would actually allow their living and breathing children to be part of a televised experiment? Believe me, that idea left me unsettled, too. Feeding, bathing and watching babies 24-7 for three straight days isn’t exactly babysitting.

But in the months since learning about “Baby Borrowers,” I changed my tune in a hurry. Jamie Lynn Spears got pregnant (and had her baby). “Juno” became a major hit, putting teenage pregnancy boldly in front of adults and teens alike. And recently, news hit about a possible pact between teenage girls at a Massachusettes high school that resulted in 17 of them getting pregnant. Maybe it’s time to find a way to smack teens over the head with this very serious issue. What about the well beings of five babies placed at the center of a reality TV show? Well, what about the well beings of all those babies born to teen parents each and every day? Maybe the only way to reach teens is through reality TV, even if the reality is skewed.

And make no mistake, I’m not holding up “Baby Borrowers” as an absolute accurate portrayl of teen parenthood. Teen moms who live the life daily attested to that in a Times article by our TV critic Chuck Barney. “Baby Borrowers” drops these would-be teen parents into spacious, fully furnished houses in suburbia. They have nice cars, jobs that pay them $100 a day, and they have each other. In reality, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, more than half of first out-of-wedlock births are to teens. And 78 percent of these children born to teens live in poverty.

All those particulars aside, however, “Baby Borrowers” provides a glimpse into what teenage parenthood might look like. Having seen the first episode (check back here tomorrow morning for more on that), it’s pretty clear that it’s not all hugs and kisses. Surprisingly, it’s also not all crying babies, dirty diapers and tired teenagers either. The show takes precautions. The babies’ actual parents monitor their children via video monitors from close by and can intervene at any time (and in the first episode, that’s exactly what happens). A licensed nanny also is on hand to intervene in an emergency. Sure, if it were my kid, I’m not positive that would be enough to put my nerves at rest. Then again, at 17, I was babysitting an 18 month old and 4 year old while their parents went away for the weekend — and the closest I came to having a nanny on hand was my mother living five miles away.

Even one of the mothers who allowed her baby and toddler to be part of this experiment understood its worth. (Read more in Chuck’s article, “Woman who loaned children to show has no regrets.”) Natalie Nichols was 17 when she got married and pregnant — on purpose. Her insight and reaction to the teens “raising” her 6-month-old daughter, Etta, speak volumes in the first episode. There are a lot of life lessons to be learned, even in three short days. Sure, “Baby Borrowers” will have its moments of hyped up drama, but at least this is one reality TV show that — as its narrator notes — won’t end with anyone winning prizes or being eliminated. The reward is in the message.

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No Responses to “BABY BORROWERS: Much needed lesson on teen parenthood”

  1. Daphne Harris Says:

    Going to be a very valuable show, premieres tonight on NBC at 9.

  2. Mary Moreland Says:

    While I do agree that something like this can be a valuable lesson for teens, has anyone at NBC stopped to think about what separation like this can do to these infants and toddlers being “borrowed.” The first two years of life are critical for building trust between the children and the caregivers, a bond that will be vital throughout the life of this child. By ripping the child away from their family, and placing them with unknown teenagers, NBC staff, and a nanny who also does not know this child, while keeping parents out of view to the children, you are ultimately choosing to damage the personal/social skills of these children in the pursuit of entertainment and ratings. I think this show should be banned an the parents that agreed to give their children to this show should be given a class on the importance of stability for infants and toddlers.

  3. BlipBlip Says:

    Thanks Daphne, I’ll be sure to tune in. I can’t wait until they have the old folks on!

  4. Meghan Says:

    I will be watching tonight for sure. I hope paren ts will be watching with their teens.

  5. Ronda Garcia Says:

    I agree with writer #2…. The highly respected professonal journal ZERO TO THREE
    has made the following statement Regarding NBC’s Reality Series “Baby Borrowers”.

    … Unfortunately, the NBC series exploits very young children in the pursuit of entertainment.

    The babies and toddlers participating in this series will be separated from their parents and caregivers for three days.

    Unfamiliar teenagers will take care of them during this time. This setup can be very harmful for the babies and toddlers involved.

    For the past 80 years, many studies have shown unequivocally that babies and toddlers suffer when they are exposed to this kind of prolonged separation from family and left with people that they do not know or love. As all parents know, babies and toddlers are very distressed by separation.

    They cry, cling, and search for their parents. The longer the separation, the more upset they become.

    Some children are unable to sleep and refuse to eat. The responses routinely last long past the child’s reunion with the parent. Prolonged separations heighten young children’s separation anxiety and damage their trust that their parents will be available to protect and care for them.

    Children can become angry and rejecting of their parents after being reunited with them, damaging the fabric of the child-parent relationship.

    …. Being separated for a three-day period from a parent or trusted, familiar adult, and being thrust into the care of a total stranger … can be very stressful for the child.

    As a “safeguard,” NBC has hired a nanny to be nearby in case there are concerns. However the nanny is no more familiar to that child than the two strangers who will be caring for him for three days. The nanny does not know him or what his signals
    mean—such as what he needs when he cries out in the middle of the night, or how he shows he is hungry, tired, or is overwhelmed and needs a break from play. Moreover, even though the parents of these young children are watching via closed-circuit television, the babies are not aware of that and have no way of knowing how long the parents will be gone.

    Legitimate social experiments are not conducted on national television or on reality shows. “Baby Borrowers” may have a catchy theme, but it exploits young children with potential harmful consequences. This is no social experiment. It is an extremely misguided endeavor that puts at risk our most vulnerable citizens, young children who need our love and protection.

  6. CJ Says:

    I am glad this is airing. I just recently became a 1st time mom at the age of 28 & I wasn’t ready to be a mom, but I am learning along the way with my husband and I think this show will be a HUGE wake-up call for these teens that babies are hard work!

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