Cheat-Seeking Missles

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Adventure Or Exploitation?

In producing Kid Nation -- an effort that required pulling 40 kids out of school and putting them on their own in New Mexico to fend for themselves without much adult supervision -- CBS gets the "What were they thinking?!" award.

The breathless NYT expose reveals that the New Mexico venue was selected because the state doesn't have laws covering child actors, that a state child welfare inspector was turned away, and that there was one medical emergency involving youngsters drinking bleach that someone had put in an unmarked soda bottle.

Surely, CBS could have seen this sort of criticism coming, and they're lucky they got through the taping without something more sensational happening, because putting 40 kids, aged 8 to 15, in a difficult situation without adult supervision for 40 days is not exactly a formula for safety.

Still, I wish I could have had the experience when I was younger. I wish Incredible Daughter #3, who's 12, could have been there. Kid Nation, while surely muted and soften somewhat by the unreality of "reality" TV, goes back in time to teach, through experience, lessons that are no longer well taught.
The children were made to haul wagons loaded with supplies for more than a mile through the New Mexico countryside, and they worked long hours — “from the crack of dawn when the rooster started crowing” until at least 9:30 p.m., according to Taylor, a 10-year-old from Sylvester, Ga., who was made available by CBS to respond to questions about conditions on the set.
The kids survived. They set up their own government, they made sure the work got done, the cooked and ate and figured out how to conquer adversity through inner strength and the power of community.
“Everyone usually had a job,” said Mike, an 11-year-old from Bellevue, Wash., who participated in the show. Among them were cooking, cleaning, hauling water and running the stores, where, he said: “It was hard work, but it was really good. It taught us all that life is not all play and no work.”

Taylor, from Georgia, agreed. “I learned I have to work for what I want,” she said.
Of course, some parents who thought it was a good idea to send their kids off to Kid Nation complained, leading to the NYT story and investigations into CBS' conduct. That's good -- behavior like this needs to be investigated because there's a very thin line between "reality" TV and child exploitation -- but what are the complaining parents teaching their kids?

The kids just learned a lot about self preservation, strength and cooperation, only to have their parents teach them blame-shifting and victimhood.

Shame on them, even with the bleach. One of our kids drank some bleach once, so I know how terrifying that is, but this parent would have done his/her kid much better by saying, "Yeah, that's too bad, and I'm glad you're all right, but now you know to be careful about what you put in your mouth, right? If you smelled it, would you have drunk it?"

I may even watch this "reality" show. With ID#3 as company, since there are some good lessons here for her.

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