ZERO TO THREE Statement Regarding NBC's Reality Series "Baby Borrowers"
“It’s not TV, it’s birth control” is how NBC promotes its new reality series “Baby Borrowers.” On June 25th, the show will be launched on national television as an “intriguing new social experiment that asks five diverse teenage couples to fast-track to adulthood by setting up a home, getting a job and becoming caring parents.” Unfortunately, the NBC series exploits very young children in the pursuit of entertainment.
The babies and toddlers participating in this series will be separated from their parents and caregivers for three days. Unfamiliar teenagers will take care of them during this time. This setup can be very harmful for the babies and toddlers involved. For the past 80 years, many studies have shown unequivocally that babies and toddlers suffer when they are exposed to this kind of prolonged separation from family and left with people that they do not know or love. As all parents know, babies and toddlers are very distressed by separation. They cry, cling, and search for their parents. The longer the separation, the more upset they become. Some children are unable to sleep and refuse to eat. The responses routinely last long past the child’s reunion with the parent. Prolonged separations heighten young children’s separation anxiety and damage their trust that their parents will be available to protect and care for them. Children can become angry and rejecting of their parents after being reunited with them, damaging the fabric of the child-parent relationship.
These findings have become the basis for a new science of early childhood. A robust body of early childhood development and brain research clearly confirms the critical nature of early development. It is a time when young children form attachments with parents and caregivers, develop security and a sense of self, and learn what to expect from the world around them. Studies show that babies and toddlers need to feel safe and secure in order to form a positive sense of self, to form healthy relationships, and to feel confident to explore their world. This sense of security is dependent on the availability and stability of their trusted primary caregivers. Being separated for a
three-day period from a parent or trusted, familiar adult, and being thrust into the care of a total stranger who has no experience with the child—how he or she is comforted, likes to be fed, held, etc.—and who has no experience caring for young children at all, can be very stressful for the child.
As a “safeguard,” NBC has hired a nanny to be nearby in case there are concerns. However the nanny is no more familiar to that child than the two strangers who will be caring for him for three days. The nanny does not know him or what his signals
mean—such as what he needs when he cries out in the middle of the night, or how he shows he is hungry, tired, or is overwhelmed and needs a break from play. Moreover, even though the parents of these young children are watching via closed-circuit television, the babies are not aware of that and have no way of knowing how long the parents will be gone.
Legitimate social experiments are not conducted on national television or on reality shows. "Baby Borrowers" may have a catchy theme, but it exploits young children with potential harmful consequences. This is no social experiment. It is an extremely misguided endeavor that puts at risk our most vulnerable citizens, young children who need our love and protection.