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Reality TV Has Gone Too Far: What’s So Funny About Bad Parenting?

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Blogs have been lamenting the abundance of terrible parenting available for consumption on reality television lately. Our own Mollie Hemingway recently declared, “It’s time for child protective services to intervene,” on Toddlers & Tiaras. A friend of mine told me that she has to skip through any minute of The Real Housewives of New Jersey where Teresa’s kids come on the screen. It’s not the children’s fault, it’s simply depressing to watch these poor young people be embarrassed. And I’ve never been shy in my critique of Dance Moms, a show where young girls work their butts off to be treated horribly by both their instructor and their mothers.

Seriously, the treatment of these poor children is horrendous. Yet people are still watching. At the end of the day, these shows are drawing an audience or else they wouldn’t still be on the air. They wouldn’t be spawning spin-offs. People are tuning in, week after week, to watch young children be traumatized and abused. If you think I’m over-reacting, please let me note that Teresa Giudice talked about having period sex with her husband while her children were present. I’m sorry but that has to count as “traumatic.”

I find it odd that a society so obsessed with perfect parenting rewards these awful examples with high Nielsen ratings. We pick apart a woman who dares to let her children raise their voices in a restaurant, yet we continue to tune in when mothers dress their pre-schoolers up like hookers. We obsess over education, feeling guilty if we can’t spend thousands of dollars to ensure our children the best there is to offer. Yet Gia Giudice can barely attend school anymore because of the ridicule and torment she receives there. And ya know what, every time we watch that show and encourage that mother’s horrible behavior, we share a very small part of the blame for creating the situation that young girl faces.

Are we really so insecure as parents that we need to watch this depravity to feel superior? Are parents so desperate to see that someone out there is worse than us? It’s the only excuse that I can come up with to explain how normal people can watch these shows and the truly terrible parenting they display without some sort of moral objection.

I get it. I’ve been that mom running into daycare, my daughter’s hair flying wildly out of control, feeling embarassed for my obviously rough morning. Then, a woman runs in behind me with her daughter still in pajamas. Suddenly, I feel vindicated and more secure. At least I got my child dressed, right? I realize that this is immature and more than a little sad, but I can admit to it. The difference between my daycare redemption and watching Toddlers & Tiaras is that the little girl in the pj’s will be just fine. Her mother isn’t doing permanent psychological damage by running late one morning. That little girl was wearing footie pajamas, not a padded bra and bootie.

Even if we’re insulting these parents after we turn off the TiVo and go to bed, we support them everytime we watch. We’re guaranteeing them another season. Each and every one of us that tune in are signing Abby Lee Miller and Terese Giudice’s paychecks. We should all be ashamed of ourselves. The children involved in these shows deserve better.