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Children on Reality TV Shows
Child AbuseWatch’s position about the use of children on reality TV shows
Child AbuseWatch regards the current use of children in reality TV shows as exploitation at best and abuse at worst. If children are to be used in ‘reality’ or any other type of TV production they must be recognized as child actors, which is not the case today. With that classification they should be afforded the regulatory protection offered by Federal Law and the State standards set by California and New York. Let’s see why.
As it is now, ‘reality’ show children are, for the most part, treated differently from children classified as actors. This is because they are regarding as ‘participants,’ like people in a documentary. This classification excludes them from federal and state child labor laws as the camera is recording their activities as opposed to their performance of roles. As such they do not earn a wage, are not classified as employees nor do they receive the benefits that a classification of ‘child actor’ would give them. The TV production company is therefore not employing these minors and ignore child labor laws.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) set standards for child labor except in the case of child actors where an exemption was granted. The Act allowed individual states to set that standard. As a result we now have 50 state child labor laws, each with their own regulatory standards that often work to the detriment of children. California and New York have the most comprehensive regulations and should be used as the baseline minimum for child actors nationally.
A couple of states make it difficult to classify children in TV production as anything other than actors; California is one. In The Learning Channel (TLC) show Octomom, the children live in California and they are subject to the states child labor laws. As a result they receive payment ($250 per child, per episode), are protected by law, have oversight to ensure that they work safely (as best babies can) and within confines that avoid exploitation or abuse.
Others are not so fortunate. Take TLC’s Jon & Kate+8. Despite being the focus in the reality show, the children are not paid for their time or the intrusion into their lives. There is debate about whether their house should be classified as a home or a TV studio, which has led to an investigation from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor. The children’s parents are paid without any motivation or pressure (other than moral) to put any of the funds aside for their children. Child AbuseWatch’s position is that the only 'reality' in this show is that the children are unpaid workers and therefore exploited.
Parents and the TV channels are motivated by a unique, life-changing, financial opportunity and as such, can (and do) lose their perspective in their protective role of their children. TLC has demonstrated a distinct lack of concern for the welfare of children in their programming care as is illustrated by the shows they produce including the aforementioned J&K+8 and the current doozy Toddlers and Tiaras, described by some as borderline child pornography or erotica.
Lessons learned demonstrate that the only way implement change on TLC (or any channel) is to remove the profit motive. This is done by writing to advertisers and asking them to withdraw their ad dollars from reality shows that feature children or from the channel completely. This removal of revenue should be left in place until such time as the TV channels adopt the previously mentioned child labor regulations as a minimum standard for their use and treatment of children.
Child AbuseWatch.net encourages anyone with a complaint about the way children are treated to contact the TV channel directly asking for their concerns to be addressed. Should the channel not react, viewers can contact the show advertisers directly; most are very sensitive to public opinion and will respond given a high level of pressure. You should call and ask who you can address an email of complaint to. If no-one is forthcoming send it to the CEO through the site's Corporate Information – Investor Relations.
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