Kid Nation



Tweens may like it, but parents should check in.
Parents recommend

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Adult supervision is totally absent. The tweens and teens in the cast are wholly responsible for themselves, and some of the younger kids suffer emotionally from being separated from their family. Task assignment sometimes seems based on gender (it's the girls who step up to cook, for example). Kids compete for individual and team prizes, and some use the individual interviews as an opportunity to tattle on others or honk their own horns. The gold star prizes are highly coveted and influence the way kids behave and how hard they work. The kids are divided into "classes," with the upper classes making more money than the others just for being in that group. Some kids refuse to pitch in and help when they don't feel like it. But all of that said, players often demonstrate teamwork and problem-solving skills (even cheering on rival groups during "showdowns"), and the cast is multicultural.


Injuries occasionally force kids to leave the show (cooking burns, a broken bone). More minor injuries -- and the victims' pain-filled reactions -- are shown as well. Brief, very occasional exchanges of pushing and shoving; yelling (particularly in Town Council meetings) and heated verbal exchanges are more common. At least one somewhat graphic scene shows chickens being killed, plucked, and butchered for cooking.

Not applicable

Infrequent use of words like "hell" and "bitch"; stronger language (typically from some of the older kids when they're angry) is blurred out/made inaudible. Words like "sucks," "shut up," "idiot," "freaking," and "screw that" also pop up.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The kids have nightly gatherings in the town saloon, where they drink root beer and other sodas -- which sometimes look a lot like real beer (especially when the older kids drop shot glasses full of clear liquid into full pint glasses and knock 'em back like pros).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this controversial reality show follows a group of tweens and teens trying to rebuild a deserted pioneer town without any adult supervision. No one actively guides the kids' decisions or steps in to avoid disaster, and the youngsters cook, clean, and govern for themselves. Injuries do occur, and some (burns, broken bones) are serious enough to send the victims home, but on the more minor stuff (muscle pulls, scrapes, etc.), it's up to the kids to play doctor. In one-on-one confessionals, kids often get very upset -- to the point of tears -- about being far from their homes and families (tears also sometimes pop up after yelling exchanges at town meetings). While the show stresses teamwork, it also motivates kids with a cash-value prize that no tween would ever be able get their hands on in real life. All of that said, the series showcases kids' (well, these kids, at least) ability to combat problems with a democratic exchange of ideas and teamwork.

What's the story?

In the headline-grabbing reality series KID NATION, 40 kids between the ages of 8 and 15 live in a deserted pioneer town and try to build a working society without any adult supervision. The kids, who hail from all corners of the country, are dropped in Bonanza City -- a dusty ex-mining town in New Mexico -- and given basic rations for their 40-day stay (baking supplies, small livestock, and a hand pump for water). They also get bare living essentials (sleeping bags, thin mattresses, and one outhouse) and a vague guidebook, supposedly from Bonanza's original residents, to jumpstart their adventure. Four of the 40 participants were pre-selected by show execs to be town council members; it's their job to maintain order, assign tasks, and keep up morale. The council divides the group into four color-coded \"districts,\" with each council member leading a district. A team challenge then determines each group's specific duties within the society. Frequent town council meetings give the kids a forum in which to air their gripes and concerns (and air them they do, sometimes to the point of making council members cry). At each gathering, the leaders select one resident as \"the top pioneer\" (a.k.a., the one who works the hardest). That person's prize is a hefty gold star worth $20,000.

Is it any good?


Kid Nation bears a lot of similarities to Survivor in that, although the group must work together to succeed, alliances (or, in kid terms, friendships) are bound to develop, and there's plenty of competition for individual rewards as well as team ones. One-on-one confessionals give cast members time and opportunity to tattle on peers they think aren't pulling their weight -- or in some cases, throwing their weight around too much. Everything you'd expect from a group of tweens and teens emerges here: pre-teen attitude ("I'm a beauty queen -- I don't do dishes," says 10-year-old Taylor), childish pranks (graffiti on rival districts' doors), and clashes of opinion. Strong personalities often take a beating, and one or two superiority complexes flourish under the barrage of challenges. Emotions run high, and more than one participant -- remember, some of these kids are grade-schoolers -- opts out because of homesickness or the harsh, sparse living conditions.

But Kid Nation's main hurdle is what prompted all of the controversy before its premiere: With a cast of kids and absolutely no adult supervision, something disastrous could happen. And, as it happens, serious injuries were reported on the set (including a burn and a broken bone), and some of the kids suffered obvious emotional trauma from the experience. Top it off with charges of child-labor infringement (the kids were filmed for 14 hours a day), and you can't help but wonder -- what were these parents thinking? No doubt kids' intrigue will be piqued by this series, and for tweens, it might be entertaining. But young viewers may need to be reminded about the potential hazards of the unsupervised activities they see (cooking on a wood-burning stove, for instance) and the inherent non-reality of many so-called "reality" shows.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the controversy surrounding this show. Why do you think so many people were upset by the idea of the kids going it on their own, without adults to supervise? Do you think kids are capable of running their own society? Who do you think decided to put these kids on the show to begin with -- the kids themselves, or their parents? Why would they want to be on TV? Families can also discuss reality TV as a genre. How "real" do you think these shows truly are? Do you believe these kids were really completely unsupervised for 40 days? If so, are you impressed by what they accomplished?

TV details

Cast:Jonathan Karsh
Genre:Reality TV
TV rating:TV-PG
Available on:Streaming

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Adult Written bygreta-elisif April 9, 2008

Western Lord of the Flies

It’s pretty frightening to imagine what kind of parent sends a kid to be on this show. That’s child endangerment. Eight-year-old kids living without adult supervision? This show is hard to believe. Do kids do the filming? If someone is dying, loses a limb, et cetera, how might that person get rescued?
Kid, 11 years old April 9, 2008

so astonishing!

This show is so amazing!Kids have to be kind of like grown adults by cooking,cleaning,and to protect them by there own.(For example,if they get hurt,they have to try to heal it themselves with no adult supervision.) Well, im just wondering,did the really have no adult supervision?Do they even have a camera to see what there doing and have a secret place?The video and camera guys coudnt even help them?
Adult Written byawakememphis April 9, 2008

Great Discussion Starter!

My kids and I had several good short conversations during the show. Actually during the irrelevant commercial breaks. We enjoyed talking about how they might treat the younger kids and what they would do when the older kids were being disrespectful to the others. Having money as a reward makes for an easy conversation about personal motivation.


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