The media is abuzz over child abuse complaints from parents who allowed their children to participate in the new CBS reality show, Kid Nation. During taping of the show, according to the New York Times, kids were "were made to haul wagons loaded with supplies for more than a mile through the New Mexico countryside, and they worked long hours -- "'from the crack of dawn when the rooster started crowing'" until at least 9:30 p.m."
But that is nothing compared to the forced child labor that occurs on a daily basis in dozens of "troubled teen" programs in which thousands of American teens and children are currently held. Their "treatment" often involves dragging heavy carts back and forth in the desert , standing in and shoveling manure and other forced labor. One teen told me about being made to move heavy rocks all day back and forth for weeks; several others described being made to do construction work on program owner's homes and other facilities. Since this is called "therapy," however, no one complains.
And if reality television and its exploitation of children is the problem, where was the outcry over Brat Camp -- which had not healthy but emotionally disturbed teens revealing their deepest secrets and being denied food (a violation of state regulations) on national television?
It remains the case that there is more regulation on dog kennels in many states than there is overseeing these youth programs. Anyone-- there are no educational requirements, no criminal background checks-- can open such a program. Corporal punishment, use of isolation and restraint as punishment and use of labor as "therapy" are not illegal. But it's not a sexy reality show: just reality.
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