Reality TV Industry Reality Check: Babies Aren't Props, Says APA
You don't often catch the American Psychiatric Association playing the role of TV critic, but clearly the APA felt it had to give the reality TV industry a reality check about the use of real babies as TV props.
The sternly worded press statement, issued this afternoon, condemns the controversial NBC reality TV show The Baby Borrowers -- a show in which teenagers are given the opportunity to showcase their caregiving skills (or lack thereof) by borrowing babies, toddlers, tweens, teens, and senior citizens.
What's particularly chilling about the way NBC has packaged the show (at least online) is the fact that it's described as a "social experiment" right from the get-go. And then there's the fact that the attention paid to the furnishings in the homes seem almost Stepford-like (we're supposed to be talking about caregiving skills, not home decorating, right?)
What's most disappointing about this whole incident is the fact that a non-profit organization that works with teens allowed itself to be part of this whole dog and pony show. That organization even produced episode guides that focused narrowly on its own organizational mandate (preventing teen pregnancy) while neglecting the broader issue of family well-being. (Babies and toddlers don't like being taken away from their parents and dumped with strangers. You'd think this would have raised a red flag with someone.)
If the MythBusters make a point of telling you at the start of each episode that you really shouldn't be trying this cool-but-incredibly-dangerous thing at home, shouldn't The Baby Borrowers have to issue a similar disclaimer when they're totally messing with everything learned to date about healthy infant and child attachment and development? Having a nanny and the real parents watching the temporary teen parents via one-way camera doesn't mean a thing to a baby who is experiencing separation anxiety -- unless the parents and the producers agree that it would be appropriate for a parent to intervene. And, of course, too many interventions make for bad TV.
Clearly the APA is concerned about this very issue -- what the viewing public will make of this surreal piece of reality TV. Just for the record, here's what they had to say in their statement. Oh yeah: They're not speaking the language of cautionary press releases this time around. They're spitting mad (assuming a professional body representing psychiatrists allows itself to get spitting mad.) Check out the wording for yourself.
"The American Psychiatric Association deplores the use of babies and toddlers as props or experimental subjects for a television program. It is inappropriate and sometimes harmful to remove very young children from their families and familiar environments, and the level of harm may not be apparent on simple observation. Since the program is meant to reveal whether or not the 'borrowers' are competent to care for these children, at least some of the children will have been exposed to incompetent and confused caregivers, and to whatever problematic situations arose as the caregivers struggled with each other. We urge NBC never to repeat this misuse of children; not to allow reruns to air; and to use every means to discourage the use of episodes in parenting classes or other venues where they might well be shown."
It will be interesting to see how NBC responds -- and how the viewing public reacts in turn.