Negligence by Contract

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Some days I come across news stories that I simply must share with you, my gentle readers, if for no other reason then to give me an opportunity to vent outrage and pontificate.

As a parent, the announcement of the upcoming “reality show” Kid Nation, in which a group of children are placed in a remote location to fend for themselves, a’la Lord of the Flies with TV cameras, filled me with a great deal of trepidation. The world, in my opinion, tends to hold modern children up to a double standard. The grown up world expects them to behave, spend, consume and be entertained like short adults while giving lip service to this Ozzie and Harriet fantasy of “innocent and carefree childhood days”. Adults are taught it is alright to lust after teen age nymphets as sexual paragons on TV and in commercials, as long as they look but don’t touch. This show felt to me like it would be a perfect example of these two conflicting urges causing a train wreck.

I was right.


It seems that the parents of the children in question, ages 8-15, were so lost in the haze of hoping their child would be the next reality show star that they signed away every parental duty they had to a TV production company. It went beyond just putting their children utterly under the control of strangers for more than a month. They allowed these strangers, the producers of the show, to state in advance that they were not responsible for ANYTHING that happened to the children in their charge up to and including PREGNANCY, AIDS and/or DEATH. In addition, the child’s history, their experiences during the show and their very name were now the property of the producers.

Let me get this straight, in SL when the issue of two consenting adults in SL roleplaying as children or teenagers in a sexual manner (the sort of game that goes on in millions of meatspace bedrooms every night), the mob screamed “PROTECT THE CHILDREN!!!” even though no actual children were involved. However, this sort of blatant parental negligence and exploitation of minors is allowed to exist and will no doubt be bounteously rewarded during Sweeps Weeks. The producers are happy enough with the results and confidant enough in their success that they are apparently preparing for a second season. After all, who wouldn’t want to watch other people’s children potentially die while performing inane challenges, only overseen by people who have already been legally deemed “not responsible” for whatever happens. How much prurient pleasure can there be to watch other people’s kids misbehave dangerously while under no parental supervision. Will 12 year old Tom and his 14 year old girlfriend Brandi actually “do it” this week? What suspense!

The producers seem certain that any controversy will only increase their audience.

Why do I have a feeling that the self same mob who vilified “ageplay” in SL will be part of that audience?

The following story is being reposted from the NYT.

‘Kid Nation’ Parents Gave Show Free Rein

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 22 — Children who participated in “Kid Nation,” a CBS reality show that has come under fire over questions of whether it violated child safety and labor laws, were required to do whatever they were told by the show’s producers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or risk expulsion from the show, according to a copy of the contract signed by the children and their parents.

The contract also specifies that while the children could be paid for their participation, those payments or the agreement to be fully under the producers’ direction did not constitute employment under the producers’ interpretation and therefore was not subject to any state or federal labor laws.

The agreement, which was provided to The New York Times by the New Mexico attorney general’s office under an open records act request, appears to anticipate the arguments that were later made by New Mexico state authorities that the show’s producers might have violated state labor laws and licensing requirements for child housing.

“Kid Nation,” which is scheduled to have its premiere on CBS on Sept. 19, took 40 children, ages 8 to 15, and placed them in a New Mexico desert “ghost town” near Santa Fe for 40 days, during which they had little to no contact with their parents. The program has been criticized by New Mexico state authorities who have said that they were not notified in advance of the conditions, which they said appeared to violate state laws.

The parent of at least one participant has complained to New Mexico authorities that the conditions were abusive and that several children were harmed during the production.

The 22-page agreement leaves little room for parents to argue that they did not know what their children might encounter. As is standard in such agreements, the parents and the children agreed not to hold the producers and CBS responsible if their children died or were injured, if they received inadequate medical care, or if their housing was unsafe and caused injury.

But while such agreements might be standard for adult participants in a reality show, it also takes on a different tone when the minor and the parent are being held solely responsible for any “emotional distress, illness, sexually transmitted diseases, H.I.V. and pregnancy” that might occur if the child “chooses to enter into an intimate relationship of any nature with another participant or any other person.”

The agreement also imposes extensive confidentiality requirements on the parents and the children, including that any interviews they grant must be approved by CBS. Those confidentiality conditions extend for three years beyond the end of the show, not the individual 13-episode cycle in which a child participates but the entire series, however many cycles it includes. The producers of “Kid Nation” have already begun interviewing children to take part in the second installment.

Violating the confidentiality agreement carries a $5 million penalty. CBS and the production companies, Good TV Inc. and Magic Molehill Productions, retained the rights to the children’s life stories “in perpetuity and throughout the universe.” And that right includes the right to portray the children either accurately or with fictionalization “to achieve a humorous or satirical effect.”

To ensure that parents and the children abide by the agreement, the payment of the $5,000 stipend promised to the children who complete the series and the $20,000 that some of them received for being voted the best participant in each of the 13 episodes can be withheld, according to the contract, until after the broadcast of the entire series.

The contract also specifies that the children are able to leave the production at any time, but that in doing so they will lose their right to receive payment and will still be bound by confidentiality provisions.

In response to inquiries about the agreement, CBS issued a statement saying that “the series was filmed responsibly and within all applicable laws in the state of New Mexico at the time of the production.”

While some injuries occurred, they “were all treated immediately and by professionals,” the statement said. “These kids were in good hands and under good care with procedures and safety structures that arguably rival or surpass any school or camp in the country.”

CBS declined to allow a reporter to speak to the parent who complained to New Mexico authorities about the conditions at the production site, but said in the statement that the parent’s complaints were “distorting the true picture of the ‘Kid Nation’ experience, about which the overwhelming majority of kids are highly enthusiastic and happy; a sentiment shared by their parents too.”

Interviews with some of the parents of the participants last week evoked few qualms about the scrutiny or stresses to which their children might be subjected. Tabitha, the mother of Taylor, a 10-year-old from Sylvester, Ga., who took part in the program, said she went over the contract “again and again” before signing it. (CBS did not allow parents to reveal their last names.)

“My daughter does a lot of pageants” and therefore is used to being closely observed, Tabitha said. “People may say she may only be 10 years old, but she was willing to take that chance. CBS did everything to inform us parents. I don’t feel like I was let down, misled or that it was exploitation.”

7 Comments

  1. I am utterly and completely appalled!

    How anyone with a child could be so blinded by the desire for fame (doubt there is much fortune involved) that one would permit strangers to assume responsibility for care and love of one’s child while placing them in dangerously adult situations is well beyond my ability to comprehend.

    As a parent it is difficult enough for me to think of sending my older child (7) away to camp or her grandparents’ home for a week or two. 40 days in a Ghost Town!! with the inability to hold anyone accountable for safety and well-being during the filming?? Come on!

    I do not watch reality television shows, and I rarely use the major networks. CBS has just ensured that I will not view their network for a very long time.

  2. I wish this sort of dreck surprised me. /disgustedly

  3. You can read the full agreement the parent’s signed at:

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2007/0823071kidnation1.html?link=rssfeed

    It’s even worse then what was related in the NYT article. Parents also gave CBS full powers to sign for medical treatment for their kids, including surgery, without needing to even notify the parents.

    My god….

  4. Okay, this revises my opinion somewhat.

    Upon initially hearing of this, I was–tentatively–in favor. Sensationalism or not, most children in this society are cossetted, and sent woefully unprepared into the adult world.

    How’ver, this goes above and beyond. Even as a non-parent, I would have serious concerns over certain provisions in that contract!

  5. Good Lord!!!! My stomach is in a knot after having read this. Granted, I am with Emilly, thinking that kids today tend to be wrapped abit too much in cotton batting and bubble wrap but this is beyond the pale.

    How could anyone put their child, willingly, into such a potentially harmful situation is beyond me. In my humble opinion, any “fame” garnered from such shows tends to be fleeting at best and any damage done during the 40 days will echo through the years.

    The parents and the t.v. exec’s need to get their heads examined. And we need to vote with our t.v. viewing and NOT tune in.

  6. Why any parent would allow this is just absolutely beyond me…horrible. I’m shaking my head just thinking about it.

  7. looks like the pageant mom wants a few minutes of fame for her child. why else would she be included in every single article?I can’t imagine letting my 10 year old make the decision to leave for 40 days. my 10 year old wants to eat french fries 24/7 and play his Wii but i have enough sense to tell him now.


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