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Professional News
Psychiatry Groups Call TV Show Dangerous Experiment
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 17 page 6-9

NBC television may call its reality show "a new social experiment" but both APA and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) have a few other choice words to describe" The Baby Borrowers."

On the show five adolescent couples become temporary "parents" to "babies, toddlers, pre-teens and their pets, teenagers, and senior citizens." The babies and children are lent to the show by their parents; the babies are aged 6 months to 11 months. The parents, some of whom are teenagers themselves, "are stationed next door," NBC explained, "watching via monitor and able to step in at any time."

After the teen couples "parent" the baby for three days, the babies are returned to their real parents, and the teens then get a toddler, and so on. The goal of the show, the network says, is to show these teens what the future will hold when they reach adulthood and to make them assess whether they want a future with their current boyfriend or girlfriend.

The network considers the show "an intriguing social experiment."

APA President Nada Stotland, M.D., M.P.H., expressed outrage at the show in a July 28 press release, stating that "APA deplores the use of babies and toddlers as props or experimental subjects for a television program."

"It is inappropriate and sometimes harmful to remove very young children from their families and familiar environments," Stotland emphasized, "and the level of harm may not be apparent on simple observation. Since the program is meant to reveal whether the 'borrowers' are competent to care for these children, at least some of the children will have been exposed to incompetent and confused caregivers and to whatever problematic situations arose as the caregivers struggled with each other."

AACAP also found little to like in the show, emphasizing in a July 2 letter from AACAP President Robert Hendren, D.O., to Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal, that "separating babies and toddlers from their caregivers for extended periods of time can lead children to feel distress and anxiety. After prolonged separation," AACAP said, "a child can feel distrust for his or her primary caregiver. This can damage a healthy attachment and a child's sense of safety and security."

Because of the serious potential that infants and toddlers could be harmed, AACAP has called on NBC to stop airing the show, stressing that the network should not be gambling with a child's sense of security.

"Although it is laudable to educate teens about the great responsibility of parenting, a more constructive approach would have been to have the teenagers shadow a family of a toddler or baby, keeping parents close," AACAP suggested.

Stotland called on NBC to refrain from ever rerunning the show and" to use every means to discourage the use of episodes in parenting classes or other venues where they might well be shown."

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