Youngest Reality TV 'Stars' in Danger?

"The children were so not the story," she said. "She didn't even show them playing. They were very much part of the wallpaper. In many ways, Denise Richards is being critiqued for the children being exploited, but from the episode I saw, it wasn't really their story. It's really her story, and frankly, it's kind of boring."

Hirsch is more troubled by the fact that Richards and her husband are in a public disagreement about the girls' involvement on the show.

Tori Spelling, on the other hand, has always made her reality show on Oxygen a family affair, with husband-actor Dean McDermott and their son Liam. The first season of their show, "Tori & Dean: Inn Love," aired one week after Liam was born. In the third season of the show, now called "Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood," scheduled to launch on June 17, Spelling will hunt for preschools for Liam and prepare for the birth of her second child. (Her daughter Stella Doreen was born on Monday.)

Spelling defended her decision to make her family part of a reality show in a recent interview with Realitytvworld.com.

"The best thing for us is that we all get to work together," she said. "So, we get to take our baby to work every day, which is really helpful. I don't know if we would be able to not have help if we both had to go work somewhere else and not be with Liam every day. We know it's a unique situation and we're very lucky."

Hirsch also believes Spelling's situation is unique.

"Tori could argue, 'I was raised in the public eye. It's normal. This is what you do,'" she said. "It probably feels comforting to her. She knows nothing else but being in the public eye. But how much joy did that bring her? Did it really work for her?"

Playing Themselves

Children have appeared on television almost since its inception. They were a prominent part of shows like "Father Knows Best," "Ozzie and Harriet," and "Leave It To Beaver." But all of those children were actors, playing a role.

"Those kids are not necessarily playing themselves, being seen in their daily lives and habitat," Nordyke said. "There is a difference, because children in reality shows are letting cameras into their private world. That is definitely more revealing than having a child play a character in a sitcom."

"Potentially, it's worse for them to be on a reality show," said Kaslow. "You don't get as much distance from it. You're not in a character. You are a character."

Hirsch said there is a cautionary tale in the troubled lives that many child actors lead after their time in the spotlight ends. However, she knows of no data about the impact on children in reality shows.

But both Hirsch and Zaslow say shows like last year's failed "Kids Nation," in which 40 kids, age 8 to 15, were put in a New Mexico ghost town without their parents and asked to form their own government, is a big no-no for kids. CBS, which aired the series, drew heavy criticism, and the show's producers were under investigation amid reports of children drinking bleach and being burned.

"I wouldn't recommend that you do that in life, forgetting the television show," Zaslow said. "Why in the world are they doing it under those circumstances? I would worry about those shows much more."

Talent competition reality shows are probably the least harmful because they mimic opportunities to compete in real life, experts say.

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