During the second episode of the reality show Kid Nation, a warning flashed on the screen that the scene to follow, which involved butchering chickens, might be “too intense” for kids. Not to worry, my 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son were in their rooms doing their homework. But what about the kids in Bonanza City who had to personally witness and even participate in the gruesome killing?
When I first heard about the Kid Nation premise, my gut reaction as a mom was revulsion. What parent in their right mind would send their child off to live in the desert for 40 days “supervised” by adults whose only interest was in manipulating and exploiting kids for money and ratings? What were the producers thinking to throw 8-year-olds in with 15-year-olds? Who would intervene if kids bullied or physically attacked each other? These kids were put in a peer-pressure cooker, where younger children could easily be intimidated and coerced by older, more dominant kids. As the youngest boy, Jimmy, who left after being reduced to tears in the first episode, wisely said, “I’m too young for this.”
As bad as I imagined Kid Nation would be, it proved to be far worse. Several children were reportedly treated for poisoning after they accidentally drank bleach. Another child was burned while cooking. One boy intentionally agitated and walked within feet of a bull in a pasture while a camera crew (presumably adults) did nothing to deter the child as the tape rolled. Even worse, CBS, the folks who brought us Survivor and who seem never to have met an animal they didn’t want to prod contestants into slaughtering for the titillation of TV audiences, actually pulled this same stunt with children as young as my daughter. Not surprisingly, many of the children were horrified to see birds whom they had been caring for having their heads chopped off by a steely-eyed teenager.
Not only did this incident traumatize children and potentially scar them for life, it taught them a dangerous lesson: Natural feelings of compassion and empathy are “wrong,” and if someone orders you to, you must kill your friends. It breaks my heart to think of the children who tried to protect the chickens—to have their voices overruled by “the mob” must have been a terrible blow to their self-esteem. What sadist came up with this sick plot twist?
On top of all this, the children were sold a false bill of goods by the producers, who told them that they must kill the chickens “for protein.” Being children, not nutritionists, they believed this nonsense and played right into the producers’ hands. How would those children feel now if someone told them that the chickens didn’t have to die, that they were getting plenty of protein from the beans, rice and pasta that they were eating?
I asked my own children what they thought about Kid Nation. At first, they misunderstood the question and jumped to the conclusion that I was proposing that they go on the show. “Please don’t make us go on Kid Nation,” they begged. My daughter, old enough to understand that chickens were killed on the show, said very quietly, no, she wouldn’t kill a chicken if someone asked her to and then refused to talk about it further. Bear in mind, my kids have pet ducks with whom they play fetch in the backyard. They are vegetarians, so they’ve never been forced to face the awful reality that the hamburger on their plate was once a cow, just like the ones they pet in the field down the road.
Rumor has it that CBS is already planning a second Kid Nation, this one reportedly to be filmed in a country without pesky child labor laws. I hope the outcry from parents, child psychologists and animal rights activists—not to mention poor ratings—will persuade CBS to think twice before it puts kids on an emotional roller coaster and kills animals for “entertainment” again.
Christina Matthies writes for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.