Are children who appear on reality TV shows working? And if so, how should child labor laws apply to them? These questions will be answered in a series of hearings this fall, sparked by child labor allegations against Jon and Kate Gosselin for their eight young children’s roles in the TLC reality show.
The hit TLC reality show “Jon and Kate Plus 8” (which became “Kate Plus 8 when the couple split) features the everyday lives of a family comprised of one set of twins and one set of sextuplets. The children, most of whom were younger than school age for the first few seasons are filmed doing what normal young kids would do — playing outside, fighting with siblings, eating snacks. Additionally, places from the local children’s museum to a Colorado ski resort paid for the Gosselin family to take cool trips and experience new things. On the surface, a childhood filled with free trips and other goodies sounds idyllic.
But the eight Gosselin children are more than just bystanders in “Kate Plus Eight” — they’re the stars. Television cameras invade their homes and lives for up to 16 hours a day for weeks at a time. Their lives are constructed around a television show, from what they eat to where they go. Once, the little kids were told it was Christmas morning so that camera crews could get genuine shots of their enthusiastic faces a few days before the actual holiday. Once the cameras had the excited reactions they needed, the kids were told it wasn’t actually Christmas at all. Imagine how confusing and disappointing that would be for a 5-year-old. “Kate Plus Eight” certainly affects all parts of the Gosselin kids’ lives, but can what they do be considered child labor?
Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Murt thinks so, and has convinced a Pennsylvania state committee (“Kate Plus Eight” is filmed in Reading, PA) to hold hearings this Fall on whether or not child labor laws apply to children in reality shows, like the Gosselins. Previously, Murt had asked the Pennsylvania Department of Labor to investigate whether or not the Gosselins had work permits for their children. They admitted a few months ago that no permits had been filed. But permits aside, the hearing will also focus on how children in reality tv shows should be protected, and whether their performances are considered work.
The Gosselin children are not the only kids who regularly appear in reality T.V.. While television shows often financially benefit the families who participate in them, it is important to make sure protections exist to prevent children from being exploited by their parents on television. Granted, children on reality T.V. aren’t exactly being forced to work in dangerous factories or sweltering fields, but they still deserve protection under the law. And no one likes being lied to about Christmas.