Originally 'Sobbing Gingers' on Deadjournal
Boys and Girls Alone. Have you seen it? I have. It's hugely entertaining. But apparently it is also child abuse, which is a shame.
For those who haven't seen the show, the premise is Lord of the Flies. They put a load of boys in one settlement* on their own, and a load of girls about a mile away on their own, and left them to it.
So it isn't 'Child Called It' style abuse, where the children are starved, locked in cupboards and soundly beaten at regular intervals, but Cornwall Children's Services Authority maintain that during the course of the programme, “some of the children were greatly distressed and this in our view is abusive."
Seriously though? Children are always upset about something. They thrive on it. These kids get upset by all sorts of things, bawling their eyes out about absolutely sweet FA for ten minutes, and getting over it almost instantly. In the second episode, the boys all ganged up against one lad on the grounds of a fictional murder attempt for nearly a whole several hours before forgetting about it entirely and pooling their money to go bowling together.
"This distress has now been publicly broadcast to all of these children's peers and is therefore likely to have long-term consequences for some of them."
That's true, and something we did actually wonder about when watching it. All of those kids have done something that will probably get them ripped on in school. There again, they've all given their consent, as have their parents (who are watching their every move on cameras close by). So maybe this will teach them the 'making your own bed' cliché, and they'll know not to be so naïve next time channel 4 approaches them to participate in a 'sociological experiment'. Mind you, the feedback the channel had back from those involved was quite positive. But they would say that, the exploitative, money-grabbing bastards.
"In addition, given the current national concerns in relation to the safeguarding of children in this country, it is in our view highly irresponsible for Channel 4 to broadcast a programme which demeans and to some extent demonises children and thus reinforces negative public perceptions of children and their vulnerability.”
All this programme does to demonise children is to show them how they actually are. Sometimes they are moody, and selfish, and do nasty or ill-advised things without thinking about the consequences. Other times they are brave, considerate, kind, clever and funny. The idea that showing them as vulnerable is negative seems odd to me - I think it helps to remember that they are kids, susceptible to things they see on the street or on telly, and that before demonising them you ought to have a crack at offering some kind of guidance. But it also points out that excessive mollycoddling is equally unhelpful, because it means they don't do things for themselves, and might prove daft enough to take sweets from the nice stranger in the beige mac.
The Times online reports that one child psychologist says “There is deliberate torment by adults of children in obvious distress,” which isn't true - when the kids have been upset, most of the parents have leapt in to see them. Another professional throws in her two cents with the logical leap that, "If you put children together, unsupervised, as sure as day follows night, there will be bullying... How much worse will it be for them to know they have been bullied in front of the whole nation?”
I dunno, 48.739%? Children are together unsupervised every day, and bullying goes on unchecked every day. They all know that bullying is bad, but continue to do it. If anything, seeing it happen on telly in front of their faces is going to make them aware of the effects. Because lets be honest, there is a wide range of behaviour that constitutes bullying, and I know of cases where the bullying kids have genuinely not considered themselves to be bullying. They see it as self defence or joining in with a 'joke' other kids are making, whilst the other party goes home in tears. Point is, they're not adults, and they haven’t got a very developed sense of empathy. Maybe showing them will help.
Their lack of adult-ness also makes their treatment negligent, it has been argued, because most of them can't cook or look after themselves. Course, that was the reason a lot of parents allowed them to take part - to teach them that they actually have life pretty easy, with people to do all that stuff for them. However, the adults were entertainingly perturbed when both communities took the view that those who could cook should only do so for themselves - or in the girls' case only for their house - leaving the others (some only eight) to fend for themselves. Having watched this they swooped in to lecture their offspring on the importance of looking out for people who are younger than you, taking responsibility, caring, sharing etc. So it's not as if they swanned off on holiday and deliberately left the kids to it, which the word negligent seems to imply.
I can't conclusively say whether there will be negative long-term ramifications for the kids who did this show. It seems possible. But I don't think any of them are going to slide into drug addiction or other life ruining chaos as a result of taking part in a documentary. And I hope Channel 4 do get to show the rest of it, not least because I want to know the outcome of the much hinted-at love story of eight year old Maddie and nine year old William next time when the two groups get to meet each other. My money's on them eloping, and giving OK! the exclusive interview.
*a pair of very nice country houses in Cornwall