“Our Little Genius” is a new game show coming to the small screen in early 2010 from Mark Burnett. This is a quiz show for super-smart children between the ages of 6-12 — and is focused on a child’s particular area of “genius.” The kids move up the money ladder as they get correct answers. The catch is that the parents are the ones that make the decision to keep going or not.
In essence, they either believe in their child’s ability or simply don’t. We are not talking small amounts of money either. The payoff is upwards of $200,000 — an amount that could change an entire family’s future. The pressure to perform for a large payoff will be a huge responsibility for any of these children. In essence, these parents are pimping out their children in hopes of a huge monetary return with little or no safeguards for the welfare of the children. This is not a judged show on talent (an inherently subjective experience). It is a quiz show with parents in control of the destiny while kids are expected to be little computers spitting out information. This is a recipe for a self-esteem nosedive.
When it comes to reality TV and game shows, there are no guidelines for the welfare of the children. The laws are not the same as for child actors, who have numerous laws in place to protect them emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Paul Petersen, who was a child star himself on “The Donna Reed Show,” has been an advocate for children in television for years. His organization, A Minor Consideration, has been fighting exploitation of children, including Jon and Kate’s children and many other reality TV kids.
Children, being minors, can’t consent (by definition) because they are unaware of the real consequences of their choices. This is why parents — as responsible adults — are supposed to be in charge of decisions for their children. What we find with reality TV parents is that they are often not responsible and have other priorities, including their own fame and fortune — such as with Jon and Kate, Octomom, the Heenes, the parents on “Little Miss Perfect” … the list goes on and on!
The problem is, when there is money involved and no laws regulating the situation, it leaves those who have another agenda other than the health, safety, and welfare of the children in charge. The parents, the producers, and the networks are the ones in control. The top priority of those people (including parents) is most often making money — which is usually at the expense of the kid’s well-being.
Why I don’t believe “Our Little Genius” is so genius is that it pits the children against their parents at a very intense emotional moment, with high stakes and real dollars. What will the emotional impact be on the children who lose out early and their parents and family were in great need of the money? What will it mean for the emotional experience of a child who doesn’t succeed and feels humiliated in front of an entire nation? How resentful will a child become when his parents tell him to stop because they don’t believe he can answer the next question?
We will be waiting for that fateful moment when the child gets the answer incorrect, and we will see how the parents and the child respond to defeat. Or we will watch the anger, resentment, and tears wash across the child’s face, as he is able to answer the question that his parents didn’t believe he could — just another painful and sad moment brought to us by the unabashed exploitation of kids.