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Scott D. Pierce: Only bad parents let kids go on reality TV

Published September 27, 2013 9:28 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Fox has taken a lot of well-deserved flak for its racist/sexist/tasteless/vulgar sitcom "Dads," but that's not the most reprehensible new show on the network's fall schedule.

That dishonor goes to "MasterChef Junior" (Friday, 7 p.m., Fox/Channel 13) for one very big reason: Children do not belong on TV reality shows.

Networks should not be exploiting children for ratings. Even if those children (and their parents) are willing. Even if the show seems relatively benign. Because even those shows can turn into train wrecks.

Could there have been a sweeter show than "Jon & Kate Plus Eight" before it ran off the rails? Continuing to put those children on the air as their parents' marriage collapsed was nothing short of child abuse.

If you put your child on reality TV, you are a bad parent. Period.

If you're an adult, you can take the risk and decide to go on a reality show. Minors can't make those decisions. And their parents/guardians shouldn't put minors at risk.

Make no mistake about it, you're definitely taking a risk.

Just ask Allison DeBona, who came across as the Wicked Witch of Ballet West in Season 1 of "Breaking Pointe." That show told her story, but it didn't tell her whole story — and editing makes a huge difference.

And that was on a show that was about ballet dancers' professional and personal lives, not a competition.

"MasterChef Junior" seems quite benign. It is exactly what the title indicates — a version of "MasterChef" with children (ages 8-13) as the contestants.

They're amazingly talented kids. And, at least in the premiere, Gordon Ramsay is on his best behavior and doesn't yell at anyone.

But one girl bursts into tears under the pressure of the competition. Another wants to know "where the hell" the pomegranates are.

The point of reality/competition shows is that, under pressure, people's true natures emerge. Is that appropriate with 8- to 13-year-olds?

Absolutely not.

And there's more to these shows than just what you see on TV. Just ask Dawn Meehan, the BYU English professor who received death threats because of a move she made playing the game of "Survivor" — because some viewers out there forget that it's just a game. Just like "MasterChef Junior."

It's a lock that the child contestants on "MasterChef Junior" are going to be subjected to hateful comments if not outright bullyng by Internet trolls. And no parents should ever allow their child to put himself or herself in that position.

Does it always go horribly wrong? No. But what good parent would take that risk?

So, yes, if you allow your child to go on a TV reality show you are a bad parent. Period. Exclamation point.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.