Reality television has long pushed the boundaries of privacy and, some would say, taste. From The Real World to John & Kate Plus 8, reality TV has created its own stable of celebrities and made a lot of people a lot of money.
In shows like John & Kate Plus 8, where children are the focal point of the program, the question has been raised, "Who is looking out for the kids?" In many states, there are no legal restrictions on what child stars can participate in or be exposed to in reality television.
That's not to say reality show's feature children in obscene circumstances, just some questionable ones. As a recent article in the Los Angeles Times pointed out, there was the potty training episode in John & Kate. The Real Housewives of New Jersey also featured a cast meltdown for which young children were present.
What is in place to ensure that these children are protected? Who is monitoring their well-being? In most cases, it is not much more than the producer's guarantee that the kids like the camera or that they do not have to be onscreen if they don't want to be.
According to The Time's research, most of these reality shows do have work permits for children less than 16 years of age. Currently, labor law regulators from California, and other states, are looking to see whether or not any laws were violated.
Among other things, few shows put any official limits on the number of hours that children may work in a day or mandate regularly-scheduled breaks. Most do not promise any sort of wage to participating children, or that any money will be set aside for them later in life.
For a long time, reality show producers have been able to hide behind the defense that the children on their shows aren't real actors. That time, however, may be fading fast.
- Reality TV Kids Don't Have a Safety Net (Los Angeles Times)