Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Do Reality Shows Abuse Children?

posted by Nell Minow

The Wrap has a provocative column by Domnic Patten about the impact of reality television programs on the children who participate in them.
One problem is a loophole in the law. If children are working as actors on a film or television show, there are very strict limits on how many hours they can work. They are required to have a teacher and a parent or guardian with them. But if it is a “reality” show, it is not considered a job; the theory is that they are just going about their lives and being filmed.

“Jon & Kate Plus 8’s” treatment of the Gosselin children is now being investigated by the Pennsylvania Labor Department.


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.

Therapist Drew Pinsky (better known as “Dr. Drew”), put it directly:

“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.”

  • Alicia

    I realize you posted this ages ago, Nell, but I do think that these shows can be very destructive, especially for children.
    Let me give a related example. I once met a middle-aged woman, who, as a teenage unwed mother, had been the subject of a documentary, and, it seemed to me that the amount of attention she received at that age, followed by a return to “normal life” had a very destructive effect on her. Not that I knew her incredibly well, but it seemed that she could never “settle” on anything, and it seemed like she was always looking to get back to the kind of attention she’d received as a young girl.
    So I don’t think it is so much the working that is the problem, but the being under the glare of the cameras and all the public attention that may be the problem.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Alicia, and I only posted this a few days ago. I think you make a very important point young and vulnerable performers in both reality and scripted shows can suffer terribly when they are out of the spotlight and miss the attention.

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