- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

I blew it. All this time, I had the makings of a successful reality show right under my own roof. All I had to do was turn on a few strategically placed video cameras, shout, “Every kid for himself,” leave town for six weeks and — viola — I’d be sitting pretty with a debut this week on network television.

Instead, I’ll be sitting at home overseeing the orderly progression of a typical Wednesday evening while all across America, families tune into “Kid Nation,” the already infamous reality show in which 40 children ages 8 to 15 lived in a New Mexico “ghost town” without adult supervision for roughly 40 days in spring.

If I think about it, it’s enough to make me cringe over the lost opportunity. How hard would it have been to hand over the house keys to a couple of producers and cameramen from CBS to film my four children duking it out over dominance of the TV remote, arguing about whose turn it was to do the dishes, bouncing on the trampoline until 3 a.m. or leaving the hose on until the lawn floated down the street?

I’m certain that if left to their own devices, my children could have provided untold hours of entertainment to America’s content-starved television viewers. Heck, I have three teenagers and a tween in my house. There would have been hairbrushes flying, lights burning at all hours and pizza boxes shooting flames from the oven. (I wish I were joking about that.)

But no. I missed the chance to exploit my children for a whopping $5,000 per participant. Instead, a bunch of youngsters from across America (some darn fine children, we’re told) will get famous and probably rich (think of the book deals and spinoffs) while my family stays home living a normal life, watching other people getting their big breaks.

Of course, the more I’ve learned about “Kid Nation” during the past several weeks of media hype, the more I ask myself this question: Why is it that when the parents of these 40 children left their offspring virtually unsupervised for six weeks, they got a paycheck, while the rest of us would get time in jail for criminal neglect?

If you don’t know, “Kid Nation” is a reality show airing for the first time this week on CBS. The premise is: What would happen if you left 40 children to fend for themselves for six weeks without parental or adult supervision?

The participants were told the experience would be akin to summer camp, though they would be totally in charge. Among their tasks were to establish a government, a system of commerce and the means to keep themselves fed, clothed and cared for in a rustic setting.

When I first heard about this show, I immediately thought of the time my husband and I took a trip without our children. The baby sitter we had hired was scheduled to work on the day Jim and I were traveling home, so we decided our older daughters, then 14 and 12, could baby-sit from early morning, when the sitter left the house, until our return later that evening.

When we arrived home, we weren’t greeted by hugs and kisses but by a cacophony of complaints and tattling. To be sure, everyone was safe and sound, but let’s just say that daylong version of “Hicks Kid Nation” proved why God made adults and gave us dominion over our offspring.

“Kid Nation” is getting so much press that I decided to go online and see the preview offered by its network. In five heartwarming minutes, I was introduced to the brave, bold and resourceful “kids” whose journey I am supposed to follow for the fall season. Not for nothing, the “kids” in this nation are generally endearing (props to the casting directors).

Unfortunately, they lost me when they got to the voice-over script that said, “Kids can do anything adults can do.”

That just honks me off.

“Kid Nation” is further proof of our child-centric culture, in which the fixation on youth and the glorification of children as the emotional and spiritual center of the universe is profoundly out of whack.

Yes, I’m a mother of four children. Yes, I love them madly. In fact, I genuinely enjoy the company of children, even those who aren’t mine.

But folks, when we lose sight of the proper role of adults in civil society — when we “demonstrate” through a “reality” show that children and adults are essentially equal — we’re sending the wrong message to our children and we’re setting a twisted standard about adult behavior in our culture.

There is so much wrong with “Kid Nation,” it’s hard to know where to begin. From the pathetic grasping on the part of parents to secure fame for their children (and themselves) to the distorted idea that 40 children in a New Mexico desert can somehow constitute “reality” (those cameras rolling night and day are so natural, after all) the concept more accurately depicts the depths to which adults will fall to exploit children than it does the heights children can reach in behaving responsibly on their own behalf.

Come to think of it, maybe the reason they did “Kid Nation” is because there just weren’t enough potential participants to send to the desert for a show called “Adult Nation.”

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybeth hicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@ comcast.net.

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