One of these shows did strike a chord with me, however. Since I work a lot with kids, and since my fiction efforts typically involve adolescent characters, I was drawn to a show called Psychic Kids. I never saw it when it was on the air, but did watch a couple of episodes via Netflix. My initial reaction was that these episodes were heavily scripted and used child actors. The “host” was a guy who had a reputation for producing schlocky paranormal TV shows. If I’m not mistaken, I think he also identified himself as a medium, or something paranormal-ish. He’d escort two or three older children or adolescents around a supposedly haunted house and ask them if they felt anything. When the kids invariably said no, he would ask leading questions about energy or a presence of spirits, and the kids would get the hint to reply “Oh, yeah, I do feel that…” Then this host would fill in the blanks and ask more incredibly leading questions such that the kids would “report” seeing a ghost who, when alive, lived/visited/rented/owned/died in the house. Of course, the kids and the hosts would gasp or shriek at the right times when the lights are off. And the viewers would end up shaking their heads and thinking wtf?
This show was all in good fun, I suppose, if it was scripted TV. However, the producers swore up and down that the kids were legitimate. If that is the case, then, this takes on an entirely new meaning.
If Psychic Kids was not a fictitious production, then the portrayal of actual kids was extremely bad taste – if not abusive. These kids, again if they were real (or portraying themselves), were troubled youngsters. They were struggling with something (and it wasn’t ghosts), and the network was exploiting them for entertainment purposes. Did they have emotional or behavioral problems? There were hints that the kids had been struggling with personal problems (to make the urgency of the “haunting” more evident or to somehow add credence to the ghostly visions). For instance, the kids were breathlessly described as having issues with isolation, anger, anxiety, parent-child conflicts, and so on – often in response to being psychic. The episodes of the first season even employed a psychologist who served as co-star/co-host (or whatever you call it) and who took part in the “process”. I was especially irritated with her presence and her on-screen comments when talking with the kids and their parents. Psychologists should “first do no harm” – a basic ethical principle. Yet, she was earnestly trying to convince these kids that their emotional difficulties were the results of being haunted. How could this possibly be construed as doing no harm? Then, of course, there could have been other troubled kids who viewed the show on a frequent basis who may have been struggling with their own problems. What was the impact on them? Could this have diverted them or their parents away from the help they needed and pushed them towards an interpretation that was unhelpful? I hope not.
So, I certainly hoped the show was scripted with actors playing the roles of the kids. Otherwise, we had a disturbing portrayal of TV at its exploitive worst.