CBS And Child Abuse

The entertainment industry has strict limits on how children can be used in television and film production. The government imposes workplace safety regulations, limits on working hours, and requirements for educational support, mostly based on abuse that occurred in the industry’s history. So why did CBS think that they could haul dozens of kids off into the New Mexico desert for a reality series that explicitly broke all of the rules?

The ads promoting “Kid Nation,” a new reality show coming to CBS next month, extol the incredible experience of a group of 40 children, ages 8 to 15, who built a sort of idealistic society in a New Mexico ghost town, free of adults. For 40 days the children cooked their own meals, cleaned their own outhouses, formed a government and ran their own businesses, all without adult intervention or participation.
To at least one parent of a participant, who wrote a letter of complaint to New Mexico state officials after the show had completed production, the experience bordered on abuse and neglect. Several children required medical attention after drinking bleach that had been left in an unmarked soda bottle, according to both the parent and CBS. One 11-year-old girl burned her face with splattered grease while cooking.
The children were made to haul wagons loaded with supplies for more than a mile through the New Mexico countryside, and they worked long hours — “from the crack of dawn when the rooster started crowing” until at least 9:30 p.m., according to Taylor, a 10-year-old from Sylvester, Ga., who was made available by CBS to respond to questions about conditions on the set.
Taylor and her mother, and another participant and his mother, all spoke enthusiastically about the show and said they believed the conditions on the set were adequate. But Divad, an 11-year-old girl from Fayetteville, Ga., whose mother wrote the letter of complaint and who was burned with hot grease while cooking, said she would not repeat the experience. She said there was no adult supervision of the cooking operation when she was hurt, although there often was an adult “chef” present in the kitchen.

New Mexico’s child protection services are not amused. They have indicated that had they known CBS had set up a residential facility for the children, they would have taken steps to ensure that CBS followed the law. In fact, the network never bothered to contact the Children, Youth and Families Department. The state sent a labor inspector to the set, but the producers didn’t allow an inspection to occur, according to New Mexico.
This takes child exploitation back to 1930s Hollywood. Regardless of whether CBS thinks this was some grand sociological experiment, the bottom line is that they had these kids working in harsh and apparently somewhat unsafe conditions for fifteen or more hours a day. They provided little adult supervision — in fact, that was the point of the production — and no educational support, even though this took place during a school year.
And for what purpose? CBS just wanted another cutting-edge reality series. They wanted “Survivor — The Elementary School Edition”.
And why New Mexico? Well, that’s where the story hits at the heart of CBS and Viacom, its parent corporation. New Mexico doesn’t have all of those restrictive laws regarding child labor in the entertainment industry. CBS scouted for a location where those restrictions would not interfere with their pursuit of a unique concept that would draw viewers and advertisers. Never mind that those laws in California, New York, and other entertainment centers protect children from exploitative conditions and physical harm.
CBS didn’t give a damn about the kids. They wanted the bucks. And they insist that even New Mexico’s regular child labor laws didn’t apply — because the children were not employed by the production. They didn’t get paid a dime for this blockbuster reality series on network television. Talk about exploitation! (via Instapundit)
Addendum: Yes, I’d like to know what the hell the parents were thinking, too. They should all get investigated by Child Protection Services for their apparently careless approach towards their children. Did the parents get paid off?
UPDATE: The kids did get compensation for this project. They received a $5,000 “stipend” as CQ commenter justme pointed out in the comments. But let’s put that into perspective. According to the description from the article, the children worked from dawn to after 9:30 pm every day for the 40 days they were at this camp. Assuming that means 15 hours of work a day, it amounts to 600 hours of work, or around $8:33 per hour — without overtime.
Using California overtime standards, however, it’s much less. The first eight hours get paid at straight time, but anything over than that is paid at time and a half, and anything over 12 hours at double time. That would mean pay-hours for each day would be not 15 hours, but actually 20. Eight hours would be straight pay, the next four would pay like 6, and the last three as 6, too. That actually makes their pay $6.25 per hour.
It also moots the CBS argument that they didn’t employ these kids.
UPDATE III: I do like Libby’s take at Newshoggers: “I expect their children learned more about responsibility and co-operative living from enduring the hardships, than they will by observing the parents trying to change the rules after the game has already been played.”

37 thoughts on “CBS And Child Abuse”

  1. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson could actually gain a little traction for his stuck-in-the-mud presidential campaign if he (with great fanfare) directed the state’s law enforcement authorities to assist Child Protective Service in probing whether or not there were child labor laws broken by the producers and CBS.
    The downside for Bill is any serious probe of reality show law violations beyond a slap on the wrist is not going to sit kindly with any of the big TV networks, nor a lot of people in Hollywood. Since media and entertainment folks are among the Democrats’ big cash cows, whatever pluses Richardson could get from demonstrating some social responsibility would be offset by the possibility of him becoming to the 2008 campaign what Tipper Gore’s attack on the recording industry was to Al’s 1988 presidential run among folks on the left.

  2. And does anybody, anybody see anything wrong with a government department called “Children, Youth and Families Department”?
    People trust a government that can’t even fill potholes to run families?
    Calling Winston Smith, Mr. Smith please?

  3. Let’s not get hysterical. This (apparently) wasn’t “child abuse”. C-BS was incredibly irresponsible and cynical, but they didn’t abuse the kids. Any of us who ever learned to cook from Mom or Granny has doubtless been burned by a little flying grease; any of us who’ve ever worked on a farm have done quite a bit more than pull some wagons down the road.
    In my (crotchety, grumpy, bitter old man) opinion, quite a few kids could do with this kind of “abuse”. Get ’em out there doing some real work with their hands. Get ’em in the kitchen making real food instead of throwing something in the microwave… or scarfing a happy meal. Make ’em get off the couch and start ’em on the path to being real men and women who know how to take care of themselves instead of fat, helpless, metrosexual idiots who need Uncle Sugar to take care of them from cradle to grave.
    C-BS should have their hands slapped, but what the kids apparently experienced is, on balance, good for them.
    And as for the parents… Possibly they have my attitude and are glad that their crumb catchers were out of the house and learning something useful instead of working on maxing their score in a video game and drinking Coke all day. As for calling in child protective services… Is THIS what we’ve come to? Somebody does something that MIGHT cause harm to THEIR OWN CHILDREN and we immediately have an attack of the vapors and demand that Big Brother… er, sorry, the government… step in?
    I will be the first to say that, in my inexpert opinion, most people are not competent to raise children (too lazy and self-centered to take on such a herculean task). But the answer is not more government intrusion and regulation.
    What’s next? Slapping a father in jail for teaching his son to box or play football?

  4. Isn’t this what Imus does at his ranch? j/k
    As someone who isn’t into reality shows generally (other than Top Chef) or any kind of kids programming, I wonder how successful this program will be anyway. Is there that big of an audience for this? Watching a bunch of kids haul stuff around and cook for themselves. Maybe. As to the abuse, I agree with docjim505, I don’t think it was abuse, exploitation perhaps and yes, I realize there’s a fine line there. They should have been paid or given scholarships or something.

  5. You’ve joined Edwards in jumping the shark. There’s a lot more to be learned in the badlands of New Mexico than in a classroom. I know, I took my oldest out of his 7th grade classroom to spend a month as a camera assistant on a shoot at ten different historical Indian ruins in NM. Same conditions–long hours, heavy loads, rattlesnakes, no pay.
    All three of my boys prospered from a steady diet of such “exploitation” to use your incendiary term. I’ll give you their email addresses… you can find out if they consider themselves exploited.

  6. There’s a huge difference between a son working at his father’s business and parents sending their kids into a reality TV series where the producers work them from dawn to sunset. For one, parental supervision. For another, your son may not have received direct compensation, but he helped with the family business — just like sons and daughters working on family farms. By your argument, the mines in West Virginia 100 years ago could have been considered an educational experience, too.
    CBS will make millions of dollars on this program, and the kids get nothing, got no parental supervision, and only limited adult supervision. That’s at least a stunning bit of exploitation, and given the long hours and the young ages, abuse as well.

  7. “Working eight-year-old kids from dawn to sunset isn’t abuse? Especially for no compensation at all?”
    You don’t seriously believe that there was no compensation to these kids or their families do you? Do you honestly think they were on this show for free?
    The parents who are complaining either knew what they were signing their children up for, or they didn’t bother to find out. Either way, for them to complain about it now is complete crap. Sure CBS was exploiting these kids to make a few bucks off a crappy entertainment format. They’re scum. But are the parents any different?
    I think they are, in the sense that the ones complaining are worse than CBS. They signed on for the show. They no doubt cashed the checks from CBS. Now they are looking for an excuse to get more. And if you don’t see this the pre-amble to a law suit, perhaps you really do think the kids did all this without compensation.

  8. I don’t want to get into parsing the language here but the reason why I’m not completely sure it should be labeled abuse is that I don’t know whether or not the 8 year old for example, was made to do more than an 8 year old would be capable of doing. As to the hours, long hours of continuous labor beyond the capability of the person would be abusive. But just keeping him up past his bedtime, that by itself I don’t think is abusive necessarily. As to whether or not there is a difference between a kid working on the family farm (which I did and doing a lot harder stuff than these kids) and these kids, well the parents had to have signed consent forms. So the parents agreed for it to happen. But yes, they should have been paid, there should have been adequate supervision. Just not willing to go the abuse route without knowing more.

  9. You can bet that Viacom’s lawyers had the parents sign ironclad releases before those kids set foot in New Mexico. They can sue, but they won’t get much. Viacom has spent decades in the participant-entertainment genre covering their behinds, and this will be no different. Any parent thinking they’ll get a payday out of this will be sorely disappointed.

  10. I don’t know if it amounts to abuse, but it is exploitation.
    If this CBS project was abuse, then half the children in the world are being abused everyday. Most children living in poverty around the world would see this as a sumptuous feast inside a leisurely vacation. And they probably wouldn’t be dumb enough to drink bleach.

  11. Captain-I am sure the kids were compensated. The Surivivor reality show the first person elminated maked around $6,000 for their three days of work on the actual show.
    Not sure what this show paid, but I am sure it was spelled out in the contract, a contract I am sure the parents knew about, and had to read and sign, given that children are not allowed to enter into contracts.
    This does sound a bit like neglect, and I wonder just how clearly the aspects of the show were explained to the parents who gave their children permission to participate.
    I think reality shows in general are exploitative, and I have to wonder why adults are willing to participate, but I think they would be even more so with children, and I wonder more about the sanity of the parents than the actions of the show, although the shows actions were pretty low, but at least they can honestly say they were doing it for a buck, what exactly where the parents thinking.
    Kids really don’t belong on reality TV shows.

  12. I think they’ve already gotten a payday. They’re looking to collect a bonus. And their using the “For The Children” hook to do it. That’s the reason their whining publicly before they file suit.
    They probably know they don’t have a legal out based on the agreement they signed when the AGREED to have their children do exactly what they complaining they had to do as part of the agreement. So they need to gin up a little public outrage in the hope that CBS and Viacom will settle to avoid some seriously negative publicity.

  13. It’s CBS saying that the kids weren’t paid. It’s their reason they say that labor laws in New Mexico weren’t broken. It’s towards the end of the article.

  14. If the kids didn’t directly receive payment, their parents must have. Somebody god paid.

  15. And if the parents collected the check, how is that any different from the child working on the family farm , or in the family business, and contributing to the family income through unpaid labor?

  16. How about *parental supervision*? How about someone looking after the best interests of the children, rather than the best interests of CBS and the show’s producers? On family farms and businesses, at least the parents are in charge of the working conditions and can keep an eye on the welfare of the children.
    Paying off the parents is what happened in Hollywood decades ago, and the kids got left with nothing. Take a read through what Jackie Coogan’s parents did to understand why California passed those restrictive laws in the first place. For that matter, read some history on labor practices in the late 19th century and early 20th century to understand why child-labor laws got passed.
    Having 8-year-olds working at a job like this for fifteen hours a day is abusive. We don’t even allow adults to do that without extra compensation in most states.

  17. How about parental supervision? Parental supervision got the kids on the show in the first place. Now they are complaining that the show turned out to be exactly what it was supposed to be?
    As for the lack of adult supervision and the actual exploitation of the children, I guess how much you buy into that depends on how much “reality” you think there is in reality TV.
    This sounds like sour grapes opportunism. Unless of course it’s part of the marketing of the show.

  18. I am amazed, well, I would be if, I were not cognizant of the tinfoil hatted leftist loon and/or Left point of view. My granddaughter is 11 and can do normal 11 year-old things. Would we have let her go? Absolutely not! In my experience, just because you are called a parent doesn’t make you one, children of all ages can do a variety of things according to who they are are, how they were raised and by whom. My grandchild is a young 11. But I have come across old 9 year olds. CBS will do, as the entertainment industry will, anything to make money and exploiting is part of their bag of tricks. If the parents were aware of where they kids were going, what they were going to be doing by themselves, then I blame the parent’s.
    Today, with the predators out there roaming the streets of America, anyone who allows children to be out there along is simply crazy!!

  19. Captain you misread the article:
    Mr. Anschell also said that state labor laws did not apply. “The children were not employed under the legal definition,” he said. “They were not receiving set wages for performing specific tasks or working specific hours.”
    But the parents were told before the children left to go to the set that they would receive a $5,000 stipend for their participation.

    While they weren’t paid for actual time or work, each child that participated received $5,000 for the 40 days.
    In addition:
    The children also had the opportunity to earn a gold star that was given at the end of each episode — or roughly every three days of filming — that at the end of the session could be turned in for a $20,000 check.
    The article doesn’t go into details as to how the “gold star” is won, but somewhere around 13 of them would have been given out, so at least some of those kids got at least an additional $20,000.
    Also, in the article, it mentions that there was adult supervision/presence for some activities-there was apparently an adult chef in the kitchen, but the article doesn’t detail how much interaction that adult had with the kids.
    I think this sounds like CBS exploits children in hopes of a hit show, and sour grapes from parents who maybe expected more of a payday.
    I just don’t have much empathy for complaining parents, who actually agreed to allow their kids to participate in this kind of show.
    I also have to wonder if this whole thing isn’t a bit of a plant. Trying to play off the whole “no news is bad news” concept. If a controversy is stirred up before the premiere, maybe they can spark more interest from the viewers into turning the TV on to see what the big deal was about.

  20. Boy, I wish I could have signed up for this when I was a kid. What a summer camp! I bet all these kids grow up to be conservatives — the last kid quote really hits it on the head — Taylor, from Georgia, agreed. “I learned I have to work for what I want,” she said.

  21. justme,
    You’re right, I misread it. That makes the CBS position that labor laws don’t apply rather weak, doesn’t it? It’s like saying that if we pay kids a salary rather than by the hour, overtime and work-hour limits don’t count. I imagine that New Mexico may have a different interpretation of the child-labor statutes.
    But at least they did get some compensation. For 40 days at fifteen hours a day for $5,000, that comes to 600 hours — or about $8.30 per hour, without overtime.

  22. Please excuse my last post, I somehow messed up the italics thing, but the sentence with the $5,000 was quoted from the article and not my own words.
    Having 8-year-olds working at a job like this for fifteen hours a day is abusive. We don’t even allow adults to do that without extra compensation in most states.

    Although, how much of it was actual work, and how much of it was like a camping trip?
    I recall doing a Girl Scout camp where we had to take care of the latrines, wash dishes, and do much of the food preparation along with basic camp clean up stuff. I was there the whole week, my parents paid for me to be there, were child labor laws being violated?
    I guess the question is how much of the time was spent working, and how closely supervised the kids were. And also the range of ages-and was the 8 year old doing much more work than say the 15 year old.
    And once again it comes back to just what was spelled out in the contract the parents signed as well.

  23. But at least they did get some compensation. For 40 days at fifteen hours a day for $5,000, that comes to 600 hours — or about $8.30 per hour, without overtime.

    It is above minimum wage at least.
    Although my guess is they write the contracts in a way that defines how the payout is defined. I also wonder what the gameshow rules are in comparison to straight acting type rules-which would all fall somewhere in there as well.
    The problem with reality TV is that it sits sort of between gameshow and drama. For instance in an actual TV show, actors union rules would apply, but I dont think those rules apply to gameshows.
    This is defintely an area where the contracts will say it all, and I am willing to bet CBS doesn’t end up legally liable, ethically it stinks, but I think ethics went to the wind as soon as they started doing the reality TV shows.
    I still think the brunt of the accusation rests in the laps of the parents that allowed their kids to participate.

  24. I’d say it becomes work when it’s done for the financial benefit of another entity. I loved managing call centers, too, but I don’t think I considered it a summer camp. Making pizzas was great, too, almost as much fun as eating them, but I still think getting paid for it at 15 was the right idea — as were the labor laws that required overtime pay, limitation of hours demanded, etc.

  25. PBS did a reality show a couple of years ago with 3 or 4 families pretending to be pioneers in the 1880’s for a summer in Montana. It was interesting watching the melt-downs of several of the 21st Century American participants. One scene showed a hysterial wife from SoCal who had called the medics in because her husband was, she was convinced, starving to death on what food they could grub for themselves. You could count his ribs, and she wanted the prodcers to give them more food!!! THe medics checked the thin-ish husband out and then showed her medical statistics that showed he was within normal weight ranges for a man his age. She was just used to seeing him with the mandatory pudge that most Americans pack around.
    The point here, though, is that *all* of the participants in this show worked from dawn to dusk, including the several children of each family. The kids were shown chopping wood, cutting hay, throwing hay bails around, carrying water … everything that needs to be done if you want to feed yourself and play pioneer. Being PBS, I don’t think there was any recompense for either the adults or the children … just the “experience”.
    BTW, I’ve thought this Kids’ Nation thing was a horrible idea since CBS started advertising it several weeks ago, and can’t believe it took this long for people to sit up and take notice. But I thought it would devolve into a “lord of the flies” scenario instead of some whiney little girl and her greedy momma trying to get some payback for her being spattered by hot grease.
    BTW2 – why is the female cooking and being grease-spattered and not little Billy or Joey? Who assigned the duties to be done?

  26. Good grief. You are aware that what you see on TV isn’t ever ‘real’? That professional TV is carefully staged? Behind the scene that you see is a camera, a cameraman and then an army of a production crew that includes air conditioned trailers, caterers, and a limousine service to take everybody back to the hotel after shooting. The 15 hours stuff is publicity. They can’t talk about the actual workings of the production until after broadcast.

  27. The notion of the programme is disturbing,. Creating a community of children without adult/ parent guidance is obscene. Children are generally immature; they do not have sufficient experience to make value judgments. It is raw exploitation for the sole purpose of ratings and profit– from an organization which champions left wing ideology. Anyone who feels that no misdeeds were committed should read Lord of the Flies.
    The pay issue is also bad, but not nearly as leaving children to their own devices day in, day out. On that score, you’d think the moon bats would be all over the pay issue. After all their talk about corporations not paying staff enough wages!corporations not paying staff enough wages!

  28. Please excuse my bad typing. Last sentence should read:
    After all their talk about corporations not paying staff enough wages!
    Keep on Blogging Ed– I’m a big fan of your work!

  29. kids learn self-reliance, adults whine about it

    I suspect that they have gotten so used to the major networks being run by dicks that they sometimes criticize the networks reflexively, even when the networks didn’t do anything wrong. Those child-actor laws that Morrissey is talking about are prett…

  30. Self-reliance and hands-on learning of life skills? The kids’ parents should pay tuition.

  31. The bottom line is, the kids probably all wanted to be on the show. Their parents either wanted then on the show or were willing to allow it. CBS wanted to make the show. Advertisers wanted to support the show.
    The comparison of the reality of filming of this show with the fiction of Lord of Flies is as inane as it is expected. By the time you have the film crew, the directors, the writers, the assistants, their caterers etc, there were probably more adults on the set than children.
    Do you think they just mounted a few cameras on poles ad left. And somehow managed to get compelling, perfectly lit footage of exactly the sorts of situations that would make the show marketable?
    However if you need a movie analogy to help you understand what the reality of this is., I’d recommend renting The Truman Show.
    The only reality in Reality TV is in the name.

  32. CBS engaged in illegal child labor and exploitation, it appears. Some great investigate news org needs to bust them hard. They need to follow the money, grill the parents who profited from the exploitation of their own children, and find out how the authorities were induced to turn a blind eye.
    Oh, that’s right – this was all one by a lefty nedia company. No one is ever going to inestigate or hold that responsible, lol.

  33. Captain:
    You have overestimated on your wage calculation — even when considering overtime. According to California law, any consecutive days worked past 6 must be considered overtime. If these children were required to work for 40 straight days, the first 6 should have followed normal overtime law, while the final 34 should have been ENTIRELY overtime.

  34. I have no doubt that CBS will not show adults in the program when it airs. What the hell is CBS thinking? I don’t know about the rest of you, but as a parent I think it’s a terrible idea for CBS to depict 8-15 year olds as hard working individuals that can cooperate successfully and survive for weeks at a time without parental supervision. As a parent, do you REALLY want your children to think that you are unnecessary? That’s just what this show is telling everyone: Parents are not necessary for the survival of children!
    Talk about distorting reality! My own kids couldn’t have survived 40 days without adults present to help manage when they were between the ages of 8 to 15 (or 1 day to 18 years old), so this “reality” show is nothing of the kind. Put a bunch of kids of that age group alone together for long periods and most will die as kids have no idea how to survive in the natural world without the help and support of adults, especially parents.
    This is a very bad idea on the part of CBS as it will instill false expectations on impressionable children. That is the true child abuse here; promoting the idea that children do not need parents, or even adults in general, to help them survive.

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