Reality TV Exploiting Kids?

Children of Jon and Kate Gosselin. Jon and Kate are being investigated by Pennsylvania officials for child exploitation after complaints from family members. CBS

The lives of children in shows such as "Jon and Kate Plus 8" play out -- sometimes from birth -- in front of cameras.

But is that lens harming these children and their chances for a normal life? Is reality television exploiting children?

CBS News national correspondent Hattie Kauffman reported officials in Pennsylvania are investigating whether that's the case with the children of "Jon and Kate Plus 8," after family members' complaints.

The concern for reality show kids isn't isolated. When "Octomom" Nadya Suleman put her kids on RadarOnline.com, attorney Gloria Allred called Child Protective Services.

However, the reality TV world is still cashing in on the child bonanza. Another season of "Jon and Kate Plus 8" is airing, a new show, "Raising Sextuplets" premieres next week, and Suleman has a reality show featuring her children in the works for British television.

"I could see where someone would argue that children, putting them out there on television, and kind of letting them grow up before the nation's eyes, people might say that's harmful to them," Chris Myers of RadarOnline.com told CBS News.

Paul Petersen, former child actor from the '60s sitcom "The Donna Reed Show," and CBS News legal analyst Lisa Bloom visited The Early Show Tuesday to discuss the potential harm these children face while part of reality television shows.

Peterson, founder of the child actor advocacy group A Minor Consideration, told Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen that the youngsters on these shows are in harm's way if no provisions are made for their future.

"Fame has consequences," he said, "and, visited on little children, those consequences can be severe. ... How does anyone suppose that children can be equipped to deal with this? Especially when Jon and Kate's show -- and it is a show -- goes off the air? Who's going to be there for these children?"

Petersen said there really isn't a difference between being on a television show and in a reality show.

"People would like to argue this in kind of polite conversations, but understand, it's a distinction without a difference between a quote, unquote "professional" kid and a kid who is exposed to the same sort of forces on a reality show."

Bloom said child labor laws in entertainment vary from state to state, but California's are the strictest.

The Jackie Coogan Law, she said, was designed to protect children on camera. For babies, Bloom said, a maximum of 20 minutes a day of filming is permitted. Up to six months old, she said, only two hours a day is allowed at any place of work, whether on camera or not.

Bloom added there haven't been any rulings yet on whether reality shows are covered by these laws.

Petersen said reality shows should have the same laws as TV shows.

"If there were animals on the reality show, they would be covered by the American Humane Association. The children are performing. We can't have this fiction continue to go along," he said. " ... A studio is a camera and a way to broadcast it. These children are working."

And the lens has been put there by the people, Petersen said, who are to care for them -- their parents -- who are being compensated for their work.

"When people have an economic stake in the outcome of their decisions," he said, "even with their children's lives at stake, they often make the bad choice."

Bloom agreed, citing the labor laws' provisions for setting earnings aside for the children. She added, in the case of the "Octomom," the premature children's welfare should be considered.

"A question really for the courts and the California authorities, is this healthy for those babies?"

Petersen said he wants to see a ruling in the case of "Jon and Kate Plus 8" that favors the children.

He said, "Is it work (for the children), or are we just watching a documentary on meerkats?"
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