Reality television. You love it or you hate it. And boy oh boy do I love it. Watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians is part of my weekly routine. I’m serious I pencil it in my diary. I also turn into a whole different person during Masterchef season.
The shift towards guilty pleasure reality television is global. Media giants love it. It’s cheaper to make, earns high ratings and tonnes of advertiser cash.
Reality shows have not only amassed incredible popularity but also have become the object of severe criticism. A serious criticism is that reality shows rely on viewers’ enjoyment of the humiliation and degrading of participants. Which is true I mean look at American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, Survivor or The Bachelor.
However, today I’m going to open up the reality show criticism discussion about another kettle of fish. Gosh, I’m sounding more like my mum. Let’s discuss the poor children of reality television.
Now, you are probably reading this thinking hey Grace I would hardly call Kylie or Kendall Jenner… poor. Trust me I’m not. I’m more so referring to the impact that being filmed at a young age for viewer enjoyment, commonly without consent or knowledge on how this could impact their future has on a child.
I think it’s a combination of me becoming more aware, older and the impact of my media and communication studies, but now when I see kids on camera I genuinely worry for them. Don’t get me started on Toddlers and Tiaras.
I used to be a frequent Dance Moms viewer but now I just feel so sorry for the kids. Yes, I’m sure there are many perks of appearing on reality television at 8 years but the embarrassment that would entail I personally am grateful I didn’t have to go through it.
Reality television kids and child actors are two different ball games. We have seen the negative effects of child actors growing up; think Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, Macauley Culkin and Drew Barrymore. All have heavily criticised their parents since for not protecting them and their well-being growing up. Culkin and Barrymore both emancipated from their parents before 18! There is long-term research and proof of the negative effects of growing up in the spotlight has on development. But, thankfully there are plenty of success stories. I mean just look at Emma Watson kicking a** in her field, work with HeforShe, a UN Ambassador and being downright awesome at life.
But, as I mentioned earlier children on reality television is a whole different thing. Children on reality television are themselves. They are not portraying a character. It’s them.
A law study on if children of reality TV are adequately protected by American Federal law found that due to the reality television goal of portraying the “realistic” lives of participants, reality children may suffer from self-identity issues. Unlike child actors, who portray a character on screen and can separate their actual selves from the roles they play, children on reality television cannot.
This is putting children under a microscope, stripping them of their privacy and highlighting their most emotional moments for essentially ratings and profit.
It has been really hard to find empirical data to understand the effects of non-stop media exposure. This wasn’t surprising as children being the focus on reality TV has only really been a “thing” for 10 to 15 years. Many of the children are teenagers or young adults now and yet to declare if their life under the spotlight has negatively or positively impacted their future career, reputation and well-being.
Dr Drew Pinsky, co-author of The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America.
“These shows can open the kids to a level of public scrutiny, of shame and of failure,”
Pinsky puts the responsibility on the parents and the producers.
“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.”
For many child actors parental exploitation was financially motivated, however, the emergence of reality television is not only a source of financial opportunity but fame and celebrity.
Educational psychotherapist Russell Hyken believes reality TV can be a good thing for children, but we don’t see it often,
“Kids overcoming difficult circumstances that role models success, means kids can benefit. But when children are showered with attention because they’re on TV, that creates behavioural problems because they become more attention-seeking.”
A great contrast example is my girl Kylie Jenner. Having grown up in the spotlight she is actively at 19 still promoting her lifestyle and choosing to create her own reality show Life of Kylie. This is so people can get to know the “real Kylie”
“I don’t want them to get used to having a camera in their face.”
I really hope that we have learnt from the debacles surrounding child actors. As children who feature on reality shows consciously or not are putting themselves far more out there and susceptible to greater scrutiny for being themselves. There are kids who like Kylie are extremely happy with the way everything turned out and so she should be. But if history is anything to go by there will be kids like Barrymore and Culkin whose lives are changed and are no longer on speaking terms with their parents.
As frequent reality TV consumer, it certainly is a bit of a pickle. It’s great to see kids and their family engaging positively on our television screens with each other but at what cost.