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Why I back the UN on children in reality TV Shows

Last week the United Nations condemned the use of children in reality TV shows in the UK.  The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child claimed such programmes were guilty of invading children's privacy, and called for regulation to prevent children being exploited in this way. It recommended that the UK government should "intensify its efforts" with the media to protect the rights of children, "especially by avoiding messages publicly exposing them to shame".

I welcome this call for regulation, as I've been worried about the use of children in reality TV programmes for some time now. My concern is that the public is encouraged to believe that watching these programmes will help them develop their parenting skills.  It is clear that there is a genuine demand from many parents for more visual advice, and at one time the parenting programmes on television did offer parents helpful advice and guidance. But in the last two or three years the majority of parenting programmes have taken on a sensationalist reality TV approach, which I believe carries the risk of being highly damaging to both the child and the families involved. I was so worried about this that I wrote to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, last year expressing my concerns.
 
In the majority of recent programmes, the producers have not chosen average families, with average children, whose occasional tantrums are normal, but have instead focused on families at breaking point, where the behaviour of the child is extreme.  Vulnerable parents and children are at risk of being exploited in heavily-edited programmes in order to boost ratings.  In addition I often feel that some of the presenters of such programmes are also being exploited, as we don't see the complete picture of the advice they have given. Instead, the answers to problems tend to focus on what appear to be quick-fix methods, and any in-depth advice given by the presenter is not screened. 

I think that we also have to seriously consider the long-term effect on the children who participate in these sensationlist reality TV programmes, which are watched by millions. The real reality of these "reality shows" is that being labelled as the "child from hell" for many years ahead could be a stigma that some children may find very hard to live with.

I also believe that parents should think carefully before subjecting their children to the public humiliation of methods like the "naughty step".  In my experience, more often than not the child's behaviour is within normal parameters and could be improved with a positive and affirming approach using descriptive praise, star charts and so on.  

For more information on my views of the Naughty Step.

Gina Ford © 12 October 2008

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