Balloon Boy: Falcon Heene Spotlights the Price of Fame for Reality TV Kids

Balloon Boy: Falcone Heene Spotlights the Price of Fame for Reality TV Kids

From the Dionne quintuplets in the 1930s to Balloon Boy Falcon Heene, children have been paraded in front of audiences for years.

But the public spectacle caused last week when Falcon Heene's parents led authorities to believe the 6-year-old was adrift in a homemade balloon in the skies over Colorado -- a stunt the local sheriff now alleges was a hoax designed to further the reality television careers of his parents -- has led child experts to question the seemingly prevalent practice of forcing children to live in the spotlight.

Attorney Gloria Allred told "Good Morning America" today that children don't often have the voice to speak up and go against the parents they want to please.

"Why can't the child have a normal childhood without having to perform all the time?" asked Allred, who specializes in women's and children's issues.

But Arkansas pageant mother Mickie Wood said 4-year-old Eden's appearance on the TLC reality show "Toddlers and Tiaras" has led to roles in movies and on television.

She bristled when Allred suggested that her daughter did not have a normal childhood.

"I assure you she has a wonderful childhood," Wood said. "She has classes, she takes gymnastics, she has friends, she goes to school."

Allred pointed to Eden's media appearances in which she's seen putting on lipstick, which she called the "pornification of little girls."

"You really need to think about the long-term cost to your little girl," Allred cautioned Wood, "not just the short-term opportunity."

While Wood admitted that she lives vicariously through her daughter to some degree, she said Eden is in control of her own career and can bow out of the business anytime she wants.

"Anyone who knows Eden -- when she's through with something, she's through with something," she said. "I do understand the risk. But I assure you that my child is involved with everything."

But the Los Angeles attorney said those kinds of decisions are not something that can or should be left up to Eden.

"These are the formative years," she said. "The idea that a little 4-year-old can consent or not consent is unrealistic. Obviously, a little girl wants to please her mommy."

The stress placed on Falcon Heene was obvious the day after the balloon incident, when he threw up during separate interviews on "Good Morning America" and NBC's "Today" show.

While authorities initially believed the Heenes' claims that the balloon launched by accident and that they truly believed Falcon may have been tucked inside, they now are accusing the Heenes of wasting precious law enforcement and government resources to search for a boy the family allegedly hid in the attic.

While Richard Heene's lawyer David Lane told "Good Morning America" Monday that he expected charges either later Monday or today, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office is now saying it could be next week before Heene and his wife, Mayumi Heene, are charged.

Reality Television or Child Abuse?

Reality television has always favored young stars, but the age of stars has seemingly sunk to the single digits on some reality TV shows.

Shows like "Jon and Kate Plus 8," "18 Kids and Counting," "Kid Nation" and "Baby Borrower," all of which place children at the center of the action, may be hurting kids on both sides of the screen, critics say.

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