First of all, let me say that it is ridiculous to have to defend a TV show that hasn’t even aired yet, but with the shrieking opposition to it (again from people who have never seen it) something needs to be said.

Kid Nation is a new show for CBS that is slated to begin airing on September 19. Yet a month before any episode has been seen, the show has attracted a fire storm of criticism. The premise of the show, as explained by Rob Capriccioso, is that

Forty children, aged between eight and 15, were to be chosen to run a New Mexico ghost town, learning through real-life experiences how to survive and make decisions with limited adult supervision. The young participants were to prepare their own food, design their own rules and create their own system of government.

Critics have sought out every possible angle from which to attack this show. Putting kids on TV like this is exploitation. Having cameras on them for 12 or 16 hours a day means they are working long hours and violating child labor laws. The show has exposed this children to neglect and abuse and there have been injuries on the set.

All of these are excuses and covers. The real issue here is that parents feel threatened over the very suggestion that young people can survive without them. No one has thus far discussed how successfully the kids were able to live in this town, I don’t think that really matters to anyone. The very fact that the question was asked is offensive to “Parent Nation”. Article I in Parent Nation’s constitution seems to be that young people will be controlled, sheltered, silenced, dictated to, and monitored in every conceivable way and at every possible opportunity. To suggest otherwise is high treason.

Newsweek says it best when it seeks out someone to blame for the obscenity that is Kid Nation:

“Kid Nation” is not the problem. The problem is parents. Not just the parents whose kids are on the show, but all parents who fuel an industry that has no respect for what it means to be a kid. The ones who will gather the family around the television to watch “Kid Nation” and reinforce the ridiculous notion that what is for adults—social responsibility, lawmaking, law enforcement, ribald jokes—should also be for kids.

Everyone who reinforces such a ridiculous notion that the artificial extension of childhood and the walled nursery youth are kept in until 18 are somehow wrong, or at best that there may be other options, is to blame. I am proud to be considered a part of such a problem. I hope I keep Joshua Alston up at night.

If the main issue here was exploitation or abuse or child labor then where was the outcry over Brat Camp? Brat Camp was another reality TV show that featured kids being filmed for long hours, so were they exploited or in violation of child labor laws? What about the abusive conditions and restraints the kids faced on that show? From the British version:

In last night’s episode a 15 year old English girl was shown being restrained by two adult staff members. This was done in both a sitting and in a face down, prone posture, whilst her wrists were held in a hyperflexed position, known colloquially as a “Gooseneck”, designed to promote compliance through the infliction of pain.

That is ok apparently since it was an injury inflicted by a “responsible adult” for “her own good”. As long as those two conditions are satisfied, Parent Nation is alright with it. The great tragedy with the “injury” on Kid Nation is that it wasn’t inflicted upon a young person by a responsible adult. Instead a girl was fixing dinner and a bit of grease splashed up from the pan and gave her minor burns. Predictably her mother is suing. There was also a report of a few individuals ingesting bleach, but it seems no one was hurt. If ingesting bleach was somehow an effective means to control kids, and it was administered for their own good by a responsible adult then I expect you wouldn’t see an outcry over that either.

Far worse injuries are seen in gym class or doing chores around the house but I don’t see any moral outrage about forcing kids to cut the lawn. Oh yea, a responsible adult forces them to cut the lawn, its ok.

The Newsweek article went so far as to compare this show to Lord of the Flies:

Obviously, somewhat by design, the premise of “Kid Nation” mirrors the book about kids forced to fashion a society on a deserted island. But Golding, the symbolist that he was, might look at the premiere of “Kid Nation” as the modern-day equivalent of the boulder that crushed poor Piggy: a hulking embodiment of how low popular culture can go, rolling toward unsuspecting children below.

Kinda a stark depiction of the show, ya think? Not to mention the fact that while crediting Golding with being a symbolist, Alston overlooks the fact that the book wasn’t an examination of the terrors that youth would devolve to if they weren’t under constant adult supervision and control, but the horrible nature that exists just below of the surface of all human beings regardless of age.

Of course Alston’s shallow interpretation of Lord of the Flies is all too common and I’ve heard it passed around often by youth rights opponents as an example of the danger posed by allowing youth to manage their own affairs. I guess the best way to see how many kids got crushed under boulders is to tune in and actually watch Kid Nation. I doubt it will be as scary as the critics think. But then again, could it really be any worse than the centuries of war, genocide, and oppression we’ve seen after letting adults manage their own affairs? Maybe a Kid Nation isn’t such a bad idea after all.

One Comment

  1. I’ve been reading about Kid Nation for about a month now. The newest flap doesn’t surprise me.

    As an ardent, radical unschooling Mom to three kids, I never expected KN would give an accurate depiction of children living truly free lives, with the same sovereignty adults enjoy, because the plan calls for the participation of very mainstream, traditionally parented kids. Kids whose ability to really know what they want and who they are have been consistently compromised — actually, stolen from them — by what the above author called *parent nation.* Like the title, by the way.

    Until adults in society at large acknowledge, provide and consistently protect for each child’s right to autonomy and sovereignty, we’ll continue to see kids denigrated, abused and minimized *for their own good* by well-meaning parents and *experts* who have no idea how much damage they do.

    I’d been thinking to avoid Kid Nation — it looked to have entirely too many crying kids for my tender heart — but now I may give it a look, just to supporte the premise of autonomous, truly free kids.

    Hey, if it works maybe we can sell the network on a community of radically unschooled kids. In our unschooling community, the kids manage levels of kindness and truy community that would baffle most adults!


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