Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Eight is Enough

You can't pick up People, Entertainment Weekly, U.S. Today, the Enquirer, or the

Star without reading a story about Jon and Kate Gosselin and their eight children. For those

of you who have been in an undisclosed location with Dick Cheney for a year or two, here is

the quick 411. Jon and Kate Gosselin had twin three year old girls when Kate gave birth to

sextuplets. Eight children under four and two married parents appealed to someone at the

Learning Channel who proposed following the family and thus was born "Jon and Kate Plus

Eight." The show is in it's fifth season and is a huge hit. My daughter introduced me to the

show. She loved it and couldn't get enough of the kids and Jon and Kate. She was not alone.

Jon and Kate is one of the most popular reality shows on all TV. For the Gosselins, the

income from the program (reportedly between $25,000 and $50,000 an episode, with as

many as 30 or more episodes a year) has helped pay for the care and feeding of their brood

and allowed them to move into a new three story home on 24 acres of land. Kate has written

two books and wants her own talk show.

However, the reason why you can't seem to get away from them these days is

because their marriage appears to be a train wreck with allegations of infidelity flying left

and right and talk of divorce in the air. The more sensational and tabloidy the news gets,

the more the ratings soar. Jon is accused of partying with another woman. Kate is alleged

to be having an affair with her bodyguard. Jon is somehow emasculated by Kate's success

while relative are coming out of the woodwork to cash in on Kate. She isn't a good mom.

Jon is the nurturer while she is only concerned about making money. She and Jon supposedly

have an agreement that he can fool around as long as he is discreet and continues to live

in the house. They are a gift that keeps on giving for talk shows, tabloids, and cable news.

I watched a few times with my daughter and came away with the impression that

Kate did not treat Jon very well. I was uncomfortable watching her scold him or denigrate

him, but hey, they chose to put their lives on TV.

The question that all this raises in my mind, and the reason I am even bothering

to write about it at all is; what about the kids? There are numerous studies that have been

done about the effect that marital discord has on children. There is even more extensive

research that has been done on the effects of divorce on children and their future abilities

to cope, form stable relationships, trust, and feel secure. I doubt there have been any

studies done on the effect of having every minute of your life chronicled on TV, including

the ongoing meltdown of your parent's marriage in front of you. Already there are reports

of the children begging Jon not to leave to go shopping for fear he won't be coming back.

Even the few shows I saw captured a tension between Jon and Kate that you could cut with

a knife. Can you imagine the effect that has on the kids? Now magnify the effect of the

omnipresent TV cameras on the atmosphere in the house.

I just wonder if anyone has thought this through or if anyone is thinking about

the children at all. The problems, the gossip, and the allegations are hard enough to deal

with when two people have privacy. Being constantly recorded by a camera has to turn

the house into a pressure cooker. How will the children react to that? The twins are now

eight and the sextuplets are five, and you can argue that they are still too young to really

know what's going on, but what about when they are 12, 15, or 20? These videos, DVD's,

and CD's of them and their parents are forever. They will never be able to escape them.

How will they cope with all of this as they grow? I kept thinking about the fate of so many

child actors that we all know and remember. There are so many, but the ones that jump to

mind are the young stars of a program called "Different Strokes". The stars, Gary Coleman,

Todd Bridges, and Dana Plato, were as cute as could be. They were funny and the program

was a hit. Unfortunately, the three did not fair well as they grew up. Plato died of a drug

overdose (allegedly) after years of drug and alcohol abuse. Bridges, too, had substance

abuse problems; and all three ran afoul of the law on numerous occasions. Knowing what

they know now, do you think their parents might re-think the whole child-actor career


When asked why they agreed to do a fifth season, Jon and Kate said that they

agreed because of all the material benefits that they get from exposing their family to

the world. "...there are a lot of positives" Jon said, "...the house, an education for our kids,

a car, whatever. Material things." Kate is writing another book, and does paid public

appearances and speeches. If the marriage breaks up, and Jon leaves, the golden goose is

cooked. For their part, the Learning Channel essentially says Jon and Kate have no choice.

TLC says the couple have a multi-year contract; which implies that a lot of lawyers would

be involved should they decide they want out.

I know I may sound like Chicken Little worrying about the sky falling; but I worry

it will fall on the backs of these kids, and no one seems to be an advocate for them. Is there

an advocate for them? Who is looking out for their interests? Should there be some mental

health professionals consulted? How about bringing in some child development experts?

Parents fighting, not talking, throwing accusations around, filling the house with tension,

all have a lot of impact on the kids. Are any of you reading this the product of a divorced

home? Do you remember what it was like? Did you get forced to pick a favorite parent?

Were your emotional pawns used by your parents as weapons against one or the other?

Did you turn up the music in your room so that you couldn't hear them fighting? Could

you imagine if it was all on tape or DVD and available in your local video store when you

were sixteen years old and your friends could watch it all?

This is not a matter of national security to be sure. This isn't the Middle East or

politics or anything of great importance. It is just eight children caught in the middle of

what could be a terrible situation, all of it in front of a national audience; and I ask again

who is watching out for the kids? Should anyone?

We are a nation of voyeurs. Reality shows are very lucrative. Perhaps with the

economy in the tank, jobs disappearing, and houses being lost, we seek some escape; and

watching someone else with troubles or problems or meltdowns make us feel a little better

or at least not as bad as they must feel. However, there are eight human beings who have

no say over what's being done to them or for them or in their name; and I just thought I

would bring it up.

I really don't want to read news reports ten years from now about how sad it is

that these children have had so many problems and run-ins with the law; or how they have

gotten into drugs or alcohol or whatever.

Raising children is so hard. You make sacrifices, worry, lose sleep, and hope that

you are doing the right thing. They are your legacy. You want them to be happy and

successful and to lead successful lives; and you wonder if you made the right decisions and

loved them enough. If you do screw up, the guilt can stay with you forever. How many

of us would want it all recorded for posterity, and how many of our children would want

that either? Someone needs to advocate for these kids. I just don't se it happening any

time soon. Let's hope I am wrong. What do you think? I welcome your comments and

rebuttals. Please send them to

1 comment:

  1. Sorry...when I see this sort of stuff on TV the channel is immediately changed. There are more interesting things to think about in the real world.