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Borrowing Babies: Great Practice or Exploitation of the Powerless?

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 31st 2008

reality tv hand reaching out of tv toward another hand I am not much of a t.v. watcher, so I am not always in tune with hot or controversial programs. However, the controversy surrounding one of the most recent reality shows called

the "Baby Borrowers" definitely caught my attention.

This show put a group of young teenage couples in several different parenting situations. Each week, the teens took care of a child from a different age group (babies, toddlers, pre-teens, and teens) for three days. It's the reality t.v. version of the old home economics lesson that required students to take care of an egg for a week, times 10.

The network producing this show suggested that this was, in part, a great way to show how difficult it is to parent, and may prevent some teen pregnancies. Social psychologists argue that modeling, or learning by watching other people (particularly if they are similar to us), is an effective way to teach. On the other hand, medical and mental health groups lambasted the network (and the responsible parents) for promoting the exploitation and potential abuse of very young children (who, they suggested, might suffer undue anxiety and distress from being separated from their parents and put with strangers) for the sake of entertainment. The crew and parents of the young children involved said that they were able to watch the children 24 hours a day via cameras placed in the teens' homes, and that there was a nanny, EMTs, producers, etc., around at all times. They claimed that this experiment was no worse and no more dangerous than leaving your child with a child care provider.

What's your take on this issue? Has reality tv gone too far this time? Would you allow your child to become part of this type of experiment? Also, do you think that this really is an effective way to decrease teen pregancy? Let us know what you think. Also, if you are looking for more indepth information about how babies and children grow and develop please see our related Child Development topic center.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

This is incredibly irresponsible - - Aug 1st 2008

Published in the Boulder Daily Camera, July 1st.

NBC will be airing a reality series called "Baby Borrowers" on June 25th wherein teenagers take on the full time care of real infants and toddlers for three days. A three day separation from their usual caregivers can have serious, long-term effects even if children appear to adapt to the unfamiliar people and surroundings. Equally troubling is the message that inexperienced, young or unaware parents may derive that separations like this are harmless. This is incredibly irresponsible. Exploiting children who, naturally, can not give informed consent, would be prohibited by any reasonable research program in the United States on ethical grounds. This show will draw attention and controversy. Meanwhile, it will draw viewers.

Neil J. Rosen, Psy.D., PC

Boulder, CO 


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