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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Posted: October 10, 2009 06:00 PM

Children Who Grow Up on Stage

What's Your Reaction?

America continues to be gripped by Jon and Kate Gosselin whose marriage has now gone belly up and whose TV show seems to be following suit. After TLC informed Jon that he will no longer play a significant role in the show, he informed TLC that he is pulling the plug on his children's participation. Many cried foul. Was this a form of perverse payback? Was he pulling his kids from the show for the right reasons or was it a selfish comeuppance?

For his part Jon says that he planned to pull his kids from the show way before TLC took their action and that his only consideration was the welfare of his kids.

My response: who cares? Does it matter what the motive is? Get the kids off the show. They don't belong there as they suffer through the anguish of their parents' divorce. And clearly someone here has to be the adult. And it seems to me that TLC, as a responsible broadcast network, has to understand that now that the Gosselins experiment in fame has ended in disaster it is time to give this family some alone time whether they want it or not. And that especially applies to vulnerable young children.

(Full disclosure. I spent a very brief time counseling Jon Gosselin to do exactly this. Get your kids off the show).

My own parents divorce was about 35 years ago. I don't think I have still completely recovered. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have TV cameras in the house as it happened. I was in enough pain without having to become a fish in a fishbowl or wonder how people pitied me.

What is even more puzzling is that TLC really is a different kind of network. They spent millions of dollars sending me around the United States healing families in crisis on 'Shalom in the Home.' And yes, it was for TV. But a boatload of extra money was spent keeping me in people's homes well after the shows were completed to try and offer some help. So why would they now fiddle while this family crashes and burns?

Then there are Jon and Kate themselves. In a recent interview Kate joked that 'aliens' had come and abducted her real husband and replaced him with the partying animal portrayed by the media. She was both right and wrong. It wasn't an alien. It was something called fame. And it wasn't just Jon. It affected Jon and Kate, both Jon and Kate were carried away by its current until the entire family crashed against the rocks. Clearly before the show these were good, balanced people. They loved kids, had a huge family, and loved each other. They started the show to help pay their bills. As a father of nine I know the astronomical costs involved. But little did they realize that fame exacts a far higher price.

It's not that fame is itself a bad thing. Judaism argues, wisely, that everything in life is neutral and it is the use to which you put the item in question that will determine whether it is a blessing or a curse. Many celebrities - Bono and Oprah are fabulous cases in point - have not only survived fame but have consecrated their notoriety to causes larger and more worthy than themselves. It is, rather, fame without foundation, celebrity without balance, that is so deeply corrosive. And once you see that the fame has become an addiction and that you can no longer eat breakfast without simultaneously blogging about it, it's time to go cold turkey, at the very least until you can once again find your bearings.

Above all else, you dare not infect your children with your own insecure need to always be in the spotlight. Kids are naturally natural. They have no affectations and they don't care what people think of them. Why rob them of that innocence by thrusting them in front of a camera in their formative years? And why continue making them live their lives in the public glare when they are having to deal with extremely painful emotions?

In my new book The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation, Michael is positively eloquent about the scars left by being forced to become a childhood performer at such a young age. He relates how trapped he felt as he traveled in his limo to recording studios, all the while eying other children who were lucky enough to simply play on monkey bars and have their parents push them on the merry-go-round. Funny thing, that. All of us wish we were the ones in the back of the limo. Yet all Michael wanted was the trappings of a normal childhood. We all know the rest of the story. And there is no happy ending.

Since the book's publication I have discovered many critics who object to my using Michael's life as an American morality tale, even though one of Michael's principal purposes in sitting down with me to do the interviews for the express purpose of publication was to warn parents of the dangers of childhood neglect.

In particular, many in our celebrity-obsessed culture have reacted negatively to Michael's warnings about fame. Shooting the messenger seems alot more convenient. Michael has been criticized for being a poor spokesman for family values and I have been accused by some of Michael most diehard fans of publishing the book for profit, even though the book was sold for an extremely modest advance and a large portion of any potential profits will go to fund my and Michael's longtime dream of a national family dinner night, which I am realizing through an initiative called "Turn Friday Night into Family Night." But does it really make sense that the most famous entertainer of our generation should die under such tragic circumstances and the rest of us learn nothing from his life?

And the main lesson? All the cameras and adoring fans in the world can scarcely heal the broken heart of a child forced on a stage too soon.

Rabbi Shmuley has just published
The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation (Vanguard Press). www.shmuley.com