We’re all outraged when we hear the stories of children being beaten, locked in cages, raped by adult “friends of the family” (if not family members themselves), abducted, and murdered. These are clearly horrendous realities that offend all decent people.
Then there are the “normalized” child abuse activities that barely make people shrug a shoulder. We were somewhat amused and annoyed by the recent story of the reality show family who pretended their son was in a balloon flying high in the sky while the balloon was empty and the boy was hiding. Turns out that this was all about auditioning for their own reality show.
TLC has a show called “Toddlers and Tiaras.” According to one of my listeners who alerted me to this program, it should have been titled “Mothers Who Exploit Their Children.” It’s a show about young girls (as young as 4 years old!) who compete in beauty contests. The worst part is not that the mothers over-dress and overly make up their children. The worst part is not that these young girls put on immodest swimsuits and high heels and parade in front of an audience. The weird part of the show occurs after the competition ends and you see how these young girls and their parents react to the final results. One young girl, who couldn’t have been older than six, took second runner-up, and her mother was furious. When the mother went backstage, there was no “you did a great job,” or “I love you.” She simply said to her sobbing child – angrily – “I don’t know what happened. Come on…let’s go.” Another little girl responded to the results by saying “I’m first runner-up. That means I’m a loser.”
These kids are learning that they are only worth something if they win. They’re only loved up by their parents if they win. And they’re learning that winning a beauty competition is the way to a meaningful existence.
These kinds of competitions shouldn’t even be allowed. If I had the power – no one would be able to exploit their children for money, infamy, notoriety, selfishness or stupidity. We all have heard the stories of the warped and sorry lives of most former child stars – the drugs, alcohol, suicides, and self-destructive behaviors throughout their lives – generally because their worth was hitched to the wagon of public adoration.
These so-called “family” reality shows are a form of child abuse and exploitation. Children lose their privacy and have to cater to the desire of networks and cable executives for ratings and sponsorship income, and producers need outlandish behavior in order to get and keep an audience. Parents expect them to do whatever it takes to keep their star in the sky. It’s disgusting, and our society not only allows it, but elevates these shows to an incredible level of importance. How about all those news stories of Jon & Kate and their eight kids? They’re getting a divorce, and their pathetic story got coverage from actual hard news sources for weeks at the same time they were appearing on the covers of so-called “news” magazines.
We have become detestable in our acceptance and normalization of obvious emotional child abuse. Shame on us.