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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What 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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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.
Talk to your kids 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?