By Ann Tatko-Peterson
Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008 at 11:31 am in Baby Borrowers.
Criticism and praise for NBC’s “Baby Borrowers” is pretty evenly split in the week since the reality TV show’s debut. The show takes would-be teen parents and pairs them with babies, toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers and elderly “parents” for three days each to give them a firsthand education in parenting. Here’s a statement from one of the show’s critics, J. Ronald Lally, a founder and current member of the Board of Directors of “ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants Toddlers and their Families.”
I would like to share our organizations thoughts on a recent addition to the NBC lineup of shows “Baby Borrowers.” This ill conceived idea will not only do harm to the babies used as guinea pigs in the show but model just the opposite of how babies should be treated. “Hello NBC!! There is a human being exposed to emotional damage here!!
Lally is co-director of the Center for Child & Family Studies West Ed in San Francisco. He’s one of many experts in the field of child development. On the flip side, I don’t have any degrees or experience in any studies on child development. My opinion comes more from everyday life experience — and four years of working at daycare centers while studying in college. Yet, even with limited experience, I have to wonder if the uproar is justified.
Granted, I was lucky. Years of babysitting and that day care work, mostly with toddlers, exposed me to just how difficult parenthood could be, especially at such a young age. It was built-in birth control. Yet, too many of today’s teens aren’t getting the same message. Thousands of teenagers are getting pregnant every year. Our school system, our current family structure, even teen role models (see: Jamie Lynn Spears, a mom at age 17) are failing today’s youth. So maybe it was time to try something drastic — reaching teens through a TV show.
“Baby Borrowers” has taken precautions to safeguard the children from physical harm. Professional nannies are standing by the entire time in case of emergencies. The children’s real parents watch from a video monitor and can intervene at any time. But true enough, neither of these addresses the emotional harm of these children being separated from their parents for three days. Except, how great a harm is this separation? How many parents have gone away for long weekends and left their kids with grandparents or college-age babysitters? What about the time that my mother had her gall bladder removed and my baby brother, sister and I had to stay with neighbors for four days? What about families of divorce, where children are separated from one parent for days or even weeks because of custody issues?
Is the latter good for kids emotionally? Absolutely not, and it’s for that reason that experiments such as “Baby Borrowers” can serve a greater good. Studies show that teen couples are 60 percent more likely than parents 22 years or older to end up separated before the child reaches his or her toddler years. Half of all babies born to teen moms grow up without their father actively participating as a parent.
It’s worth noting that the parents of the children in “Baby Borrowers” are highly educated individuals. They include teachers, psychologists and social workers — folks who have seen firsthand what happens when teenagers have babies. They too are experts.