Why Are Experts So Traumatized by Kid Nation?

Why are experts so traumatized by “Kid Nation”?

September 27, 2007

Do we need to install a V-chip on TVs to protect grownups–especially fragile child psychologists–from CBS’s new reality series, Kid Nation? What accounts for the outpouring of apocalyptic fear about the dangers of a show that deputized 40 children ages 8 to 15 to spend a few weeks restoring a decrepit New Mexico mining town?

From the horrified cries, you’d think the show was filming child porn and strapping kids to torture devices. Kid Nation “is igniting a firestorm of criticism from children’s mental health and media experts,”USA Today‘s Marilyn Elias declared. “There may be lasting emotional injuries to some children involved and bad after-effects for viewers, say experts on media and kids.”

In line with USA Today‘s and other media’s evident, one-sided policy of anointing only those “experts” who present the direst, most superficial panics about youth, adolescent psychologist Joseph Allen, child psychiatrist Michael Brody, child psychologist Jana Martin, and Seattle pediatrician Donald Schifrin, were quoted in identical tone that the show was teaching children “materialism and consumerism” and subjecting “delicate” youngsters to bullying and heirarchies, rebellion against grownup authority, and similar long-term “damage.”

Of course,  none of these experts had met a single youth on the show, and their implied pretense that children are perfectly safe, shielded from the reality of social structures, at home reveals their own ignorance, not that of kids. These authorities seemed unaware that children and teens encounter adult social structures every day of their lives.

Of the award by the Kid Nation town council (comprised of youths) of a gold star worth $20,000 to the youth who most contributed to the town’s well-being every month, “We don’t know how this would put pressure on kids who come from poor families,” Martin says. Martin’s level of detachment and obtusity is hard to fathom. What puts “pressure” on poor kids is being poor every day of their lives–not the chance to earn some extra money for working hard to better a community. For all the mental health, medical, and media experts eager to grab a microphone to denounce a television show, how many do you find who ever protested the devastating real-life poverty that 13 million American children endure?

Experts’ paranoid tongue-clucking about a TV show shouldn’t be mistaken for genuine concern about youth. You can search websites and press statements as I did and find no evidence that they’ve protested TV talk shows, parents’ books, or their own colleague’s mean-spirited books on teen clients, in which kids’ private lives are dragged before national audiences for exposure and ridicule. In fact, the experts’ attitudes seem cold. Even limited to what the show presents on the air, they fail to see repeated instances of affection, mutual reward, empathy, good group decisions, and foresight on the part of children and youths–perhaps because these visual realities challenge the condescending claims of many authorities that young people aren’t developmentally capable of such expressions.

There have been minor injuries and disharmony in Kid Nation, and the expert pretense seems to be that these traumas contrast with perfect safety prevailing at home. For the record, 3.7 million 8-15-year-olds were treated inhospital emergency rooms in 2006, before Kid Nation came along.

Martin “shudders at the response of one boy in a focus group that saw the program. ‘He said, “This shows we can do things better ourselves, and we should have more power!” That attitude could create trouble for parents.'” Perhaps it is experts’ intense fear of any evidence that American children and teens might display independence and competence without constant adult surveillance and professional correction that underlies their fear of Kid Nation.