Kids pay for a parent's quest for attention
And possibly child abuse.
Fame-hungry, egotistical moms behaving badly on reality TV have us cringing but we tune in, regardless of the scenes of children being exploited by their own parents.
Dance Moms is a recent addition to the frightening cast of poor parenting; Toddlers and Tiaras broadcasts weekly to an audience of more than two million. Kate and her eight are gone but not forgotten… Quints by Surprise replaces Kate cashing in on her kids.
Dance moms squabble, scream, trash one another, cry, rant and rage while studio owner Abby Lee Miller berates and bullies the moms and kids, and the moms let her – all in the name of attention.
These moms have a pathological need to be noticed and admired by others, says Dr. Mark Sichel, author and New York therapist.
“I would definitely call this child abuse and a lack of caring about their children’s well-being and adjustment because their narcissistic needs are so profound that they can distort their behaviour as being good for their children and believe that it makes their children happy,” Sichel says.
Exhibitionism takes centre stage, leaving kids feeling terrible as their needs to be nurtured are neglected, and positive reinforcement for their accomplishments and achievements is non-existent, says Sichel, author of Healing from Family Rifts.
The distorted need to be looked at deprives their children of the joys of childhood.
According to pop culture and media expert Dr. Stuart Fischoff, it’s the “desperation syndrome” in the age of mass media.
“We’re talking about the need - indeed the right - to be a celebrity, to be someone, some one; a need to be cut from the herd of mediocrity and count for something,” says Fischoff, who blogs the Media Zone at Psychologytoday.com.
Sichel says these parents use their children to shore-up deficits in their self-esteem and lack judgment about the potential for disastrous experiences for their children.
“Their hunger to be noticed, to create a splash and feel famous is a dysfunctional way to fill their inner emptiness and need for excitement when they feel their lives are unfulfilling,” he says.
Sichel says the mothers who appear on these shows see their children as extensions of themselves and objects to be used to further their need to be noticed and admired.
“They’re devoid of judgment about the consequences of exposing their children to these experiences and rationalize their behaviour as gifts to their children when their behaviour is exploitative and self-aggrandizing,” adds Sichel, of Marksichel.com.
Welcome to the “Narcissism Zone” where there’s an urgent need to rise above the anonymous masses, says Fischoff. In this zone, it’s all about “my child, my family, myself. They are one. They are me.”
It’s the neurotic personality trait of our time, says Fischoff. Today’s world is a vast greenroom where everyone is waiting for a chance to be called on stage – be it reality TV, a blog, or YouTube or Facebook. Whatever it takes, parents are willing to pay the price.
“If mothers on Toddlers and Tiaras are pimping their children to get that celebrity, that recognition, so be it. If that means traumatizing their children, so be it and so what!” says Fischoff.
“If that means lying to themselves, their family, their friends, that they’re only ‘doing it for their child and some day they’ll thank me,’ shut up and get out of the way.”
Fundamentally, it’s child abuse. Ultimately, “it all depends on the values of a culture and what's ‘acceptable citizen behaviour,’” Fischoff says.
“A culture that precociously sexualizes its daughters may be as destructive as one which demands clitorectomies, no matter how they spin it. There are many ways to wound our children,” says Fischoff.
Meanwhile, when everyone is doing it, then it becomes less bizarre. Fischoff asks just how sensible is it that the measure of the person is their celebrity quotient or status on Facebook, Twitter or reality television?
Assaults on kids’ self-esteem “have them going through life feeling that their worth is dependent on making their mothers happy and to help their mothers get the attention and need to be noticed gratified,” adds Sichel.