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Kids On Reality TV

Monday, 1 September, 2014

Illustration by Alyona

The other night on The Voice: Kids, 12-year-old Romy struggled through the last few lines of her audition song. As soon as the final note sounded, she burst into tears. She was shattered that none of the four coaches pushed the button that would spin their chair around and indicate that she was through to the next round. Sobbing inconsolably, she shrunk away from the cameras and the large studio audience, clearly embarrassed at her public display of emotion. And yet, the clip was still aired to millions just weeks later. This is merely one of several incidents that raise questions as to whether children should be pushed into the brutally artificial world of reality television before they even reach puberty.

Kids cannot vote. They cannot drive. Most things in their lives require sign-off by a parent or guardian. This is because they are not yet viewed by society as equipped to consent or make judgements regarding their future. So why is the entertainment industry exempt from the rules that are enforced in all other areas of the children’s lives? Should parents really sign off on a journey that has the potential to negatively affect them for the rest of their lives?

The producers of The Voice: Kids defended their actions in the segment by claiming both Romy and her parents consented to the segment being aired. However, it is unlikely that the Channel 9 executives were thinking of much more than the maintenance of their private jets when they put the show together; we have seen time and time again that nothing sells better than a kid crying. Child labour is condemned these days, but as soon as a camera gets involved, the exploitation of children for the benefit of a large corporation suddenly seems to become acceptable. It is a rather peculiar double standard and one that reflects just how much control the media exerts over us.

Other defenders of Romy’s aired breakdown suggest that it is the ultimate lesson in resilience for a bubble-wrapped generation. But we all learn resilience one way or another, as disappointments are an inevitable part of all of our lives. Most of us do not have video evidence of these disappointments, however, or the knowledge that millions of others have taken some sort of sadistic pleasure in watching us fail. It feels as though this may not be the best thing for a young child’s self esteem and confidence as their minds grow towards adulthood.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to Romy are the children that experience success on the show. The coaches assure them they are special, brilliant, one of a kind. Each coach pleads for the child to choose their team to proceed with through the competition. This is supplemented by their parent’s affirmations that they are brilliant, angelic prodigies destined for the spotlight. The kids are witness to their parent’s ecstasy brought on by the attention they are finally receiving. They are on top of the world, strutting around the stage with the confidence of an individual twice their age. Their egos swell and swell until there is no doubt in their minds that they are indeed the centre of the world. And who can blame them? They have no evidence to the contrary, and their young, impressionable thought processes soak up the praise and come to the most logical conclusion they can at this point in their lives. But there is only one winner, and slowly each child disappears back to anonymity. Their short-lived fame becomes nought but an ephemeral memory that they sometimes wonder if they imagined.

The blow of returning to everyday life after a taste of fame is harsh for the adults among us, let alone the kids. You do not have to look far to find evidence of child stars that have struggled with their mental health and development in later life. Their undeveloped minds must wrestle with the concept that they are indeed just like everyone else, while also attempting to process the dubious values of the show. The narrow, near-obsessive focus of the past few months must again be widened, a great challenge for someone who is yet to be high school educated. Bitter lows and soaring highs.

Reality television is an environment where everything becomes heightened. For the less psychologically developed among us, perhaps it is best to focus on a reality more centered on youth and innocence than on perfecting the angle of their jawline for their Voice memento selfie with Joel Madden.