Column: Smile for the camera

At the height of their fame, Jon and Kate Gosselin and their eight kids were one of America’s favorite families. But celebrity came at a price.

At the height of their fame, Jon and Kate Gosselin and their eight kids were one of America’s favorite families. But celebrity came at a price.

Their TLC reality show, “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” documented the everyday struggles and triumphs of raising six-year-old twins and two-year-old sextuplets. Episodes gave an up close-and-personal peek at their lives in suburban Pennsylvania – including theme park outings, bedtime routines, temper tantrums and everything in between.

Now, thanks to Jon and Kate’s ugly divorce in 2009 and recent reports that two of the sextuplets have been expelled from school, audiences and child psychology experts have once again fired up one of the most heated debates of the last decade: Should kids be filmed for reality TV programs?

Jon and Kate are hardly the only parents to allow cameras to capture their kids’ every move. The Duggar family of Arkansas has been the subject of countless specials and series, most recently “19 Kids and Counting” (guess why they got their own show), and kids are featured in popular shows from “Run’s House” to “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” Americans are simply fascinated by famous families and their children.

Still, the legality of such programs is questionable. Children who appear on reality TV shows aren’t subject to the same child labor regulations as child actors or performers because they are “participants,” not “employees.” This means that children on reality shows, like the Gosselin and Duggar kids, could be filmed for long hours or for days on end. The studio is under no legal obligation to adhere to commonly accepted child labor practices and limitations.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times in June found that 11 shows currently filming, including “19 Kids and Counting,” the “Real Housewives” franchise and “Raising Sextuplets,” had not filed paperwork to hire minors.

The psychological impact of a life led in front of TV cameras is also cause for concern. The Gosselin kids’ recent expulsion from school certainly raises doubts about the quality of life a child can have when his or her existence is broadcast on TV for the world to see.

Hilary Levey, sociologist and post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, said in an op-ed for USA Today that the cameras force kids to perform constantly, even as they are supposedly “being themselves.”

“Unlike, say, Miley Cyrus, who played the role of Hannah Montana, reality TV parents essentially consent for their children to “play” themselves,” Levey said. “Children’s personalities are dissected by viewers, and any embarrassing activities, like potty training, are preserved on the Internet – or in syndication.”

While participating in a reality show could have its benefits, the cons far outweigh the pros. Kate Gosselin often defends her decision to continue her show by citing all the opportunities her children have been given, such as going on fancy trips and getting free stuff like custom-built playhouses. But at what point does the money cease to pay kids back for their lack of privacy or quiet family time that most children take for granted?

Would the Gosselin kids, if given the chance, trade their action-packed Hawaiian birthday vacation (filmed for the show, of course) for the normal life they had before “Jon and Kate?”

Unfortunately, the kids are never able to speak out until they’re adults and by then it’s too late. I have a sneaking suspicion that in 20 years the Gosselin kids will publish a tell-all book, and we’ll all be ashamed that we simply sat and watched as their young lives fell apart before our eyes.

“Jon and Kate Plus 8” used to be one of ROBIN MIGDOL’s favorite shows. Now it just makes her sad. Tell her what you think at arts@theaggie.org.

2 Comments on this Post

  1. I really get upset when I hear/read kate speak. I have watched the show on and off since it started and it bigs me now because I remember when they went to church, and then after the divorce Kate claimed she didn’t take them anymore,because she was not ready to do that without Jon, but yet she takes them on all these trips alone and is hardly ever home with the kids. Kate said on her Alaska trip that she never in her life was ever without high-heels, when in the earlier “jon and kate” she acted as though she never was that type of diva, and now with all the scuttle about the kids being expelled and having rage issues,Kate doesn’t want to share it with the viewers but she had no problem sharing her kids bowel movements, tantrums, and even giving the ok to tlc to tell the kids it was x-mas! can you imagine what they felt when they found out it wasn’t? And then to LIE about getting remarried because they wanted the kids to know they would never break-up their family. now I admit Jon is also to blame, but I truly feel he saw the errors of his ways and the guilt consumed him that he is really trying to salvage some sort of childhood that is left for his kids. I really am afraid that this whole stunt with the kids behavior and the “rotten lunches” is some sort of ploy to salvage Kate career if-you-will because her ratings are dropping and I believe strongly that Kate does not care if America hates her as long as she can stay in the public eye. CPS should step in because Kate,TLC and their PR people are destroying the lives for the sake of money, because they think money can fix anything…Well it can’t, i think it is being proven to only make it worst when to us Kate is no better then the drug addicts you read about sell their kids for a fix!

  1. By Smile for the camera « Robin Migdol on February 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm

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