Guest Post: “Can We At Least Agree On This?”


Paul Petersen, guest blogger


[This is Paul Petersen’s second guest blogger appearance on Ethics Alarms. Based on his own experiences as a child actor on “The Donna Reed Show” and what he observed in the treatment of his less fortunate colleagues in the field, Paul  created the profession of child performer advocate and activist, educating the public and assisting individual  performers. (His Facebook friend list is a Who’s Who of former child actors.) Although Paul is officially retired, he continues to speak out about conditions, legal and otherwise, that place child performers in financial, physical, and social peril. The number of child stars, current or grown, who are indebted to him and his organization A Minor Consideration are beyond counting. A true Ethics Hero, his work and statements have been referenced here many times.–Jack]

Can we at least agree on this? Children are a special class of humankind. They are uniquely unformed, utterly dependent, and slaves to the adults who brought them into this world and the society into which they were born.

We all know how children are created, right? They did not ask for this. They are, in a word, innocent. Biologically mature adults are responsible. Of that there is no doubt. Children are a special charge. The rules, for kids, are different…or at least they used to be.

When did they become sexual objects? Since when are they merely background players, mere props? Who decreed that a child immersed in a working environment in which all the contributory adults are compensated for their labor, could somehow NOT be themselves working?

Reality TV producers and broadcasters would have you believe that the real-life, living, breathing kids involved in their productions are there just by accident…voiceless appendages to the busily performing adults who are surrounded by paid professionals…from writers to directors to PR professionals to crew members and network executives. Since when? Can you really accept this nonsense promulgated by  media apologists? There they are, right in your face…children broadcast on national television…be they naïve pageant participants or hard-driving Little Leaguers, twelve and under, playing their hearts out in the Little League World Series broadcast by Disney to huge {and profitable} ratings

They sing, they dance, they thrill, they emote with conviction…and we’re supposed to believe it’s all just an accident?

Child labor is a fact. We are beyond our agrarian past when, even as a child, if you didn’t work you didn’t eat. Tell me again that child labor doesn’t fit on the ledger sheet, or that no one profits from their labor. 250 million children go to work every day. 250 million heads-of-households worldwide are unemployed! Who are we kidding?

Come on Oprah with me and explain why everyone in reality television gets paid but the children. Defend the exemption to child labor laws found in the Fair Labor Standards Act that has been on the books since 1938. Explain why industry animals have more protection in the media than children. This isn’t politics, my friends. There is no Right or Left or party affiliation when it comes to working kids.

We are destroying the very notion of childhood. Fashion mavens are promoting younger and younger fashion models, boys with breasts. Pedophiles are rampant. Educators care more about their pensions and perks than the children they’re supposed to teach. Teams of school district lawyers are now filing briefs saying that children are partially responsible for the sexual assaults visited upon them.

If you want to cure the sickness that has enveloped this world, start with the children. No exemptions, no excuses, no more prevarications.

If children don’t deserve special protection, then morality and ethics have no meaning and the popular media owns our souls.

6 thoughts on “Guest Post: “Can We At Least Agree On This?”

  1. I spend zero time watching ‘reality’ TV, so I have no experience with exactly what a show would be like, but do I understand that the children on these shows are not protected and compensated according to the same (albeit inadequate) laws that would cover the children performing in a sitcom, for example? Is there some sort of “it’s a documentary” loophole? Why any parent would have their children participate at all, is, of course another issue.
    The Little League world series point gave me pause. Assuredly there are large profits being made, and obviously no kids=no series=no TV profits. I do think that there is a difference between participating in a one-time sports spectacle, and child actors or pageant participants, whose lives are entirely devoted to working. I certainly don’t want to make an argument that it’s OK to exploit the kids involved because it’s “just this one time”. I do wonder if the LL world series would qualify as a high point of a normal childhood, as opposed to the destruction of one, as is the case for children in acting and the pageants.

  2. I didn’t even know kids were on unpaid for reality TV as that type of show is revolting. I would have expected they get the same slim biased chance of prize as adults, but thinking about it they cannot give informed consent. I think parents who thrust them on ‘reality’ stage like that or expose them to late night mockery should be smacked, hard.

  3. I get the feed from A Minor Consideration and so I’m familiar with this post. Paul makes valid points across the board. My response to him was that his key sentence was “We are destroying the notion of childhood”. That truth extends not only to the entertainment field, but across the breadth of society. As I’ve often said, a society’s worth is ultimately judged by the regard it holds for its children.

  4. This goes beyond reality TV. As a society, we have gotten away from the concept of childhood. We have police in the schools charging children with crimes. We have elementary school children being charged with sex crimes for stealing a kiss or hugging a teacher wrong and with weapons charges for brining the wrong toy to school. We have parents (and a media) who see nothing wrong with dragging children to their protests and having them hold signs, as if the children’s opinion should be considered in matters of utmost importance to the country.

    We need to revisit the definition and reason for childhood.

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