Youngest Reality TV 'Stars' in Danger?

"You have to honor your kid," Hirsch said. "You can't deny them who they are. But whether they need to (sing or dance) in the public eye is a different issue."

It remains to be seen how children like Richards' or Spellings' will be affected growing up under the camera's glare. But Alan Raymond, who directed the watershed 1973 PBS documentary series, "An American Family," about the Loud family from Santa Barbara, and two subsequent documentaries about the family in 1983 and 2003, knows firsthand the impact such attention can have on children.

Often referred to as the precursor to all reality TV shows, "An American Family" made the Loud children overnight media celebrities.

"Ultimately, that ephemeral fame ended and it had a profound effect on their lives," Raymond said. "The one truly hurt the most was Lance."

The media excoriated Lance -- a 19-year-old gay man who occasionally wore lipstick and dressed in drag in the 1973 series -- for being gay, and Raymond says even The New York Times used his behavior "as some kind of marker of parental failure."

But even after times changed and being gay had less stigma, Lance was "never able to get out from under the labels and descriptions of him that got frozen of him as a 19-year-old kid," Raymond said.

He added that if all the kids had the opportunity to do it over, "in the end, they would probably rather not have done it."

"Parents need to stop and say, 'is this really in my child's best interest?'" Zaslow said. "I think most people will say no, but not everybody."

"Having a sense of the sacred is having a sense of the private," Hirsch said. "When you put children on a reality show, you're possibly risking everything that is sacred to them."

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