Youth Gone Wild – Is Boys And Girls Alone Really ‘Child Abuse’?

Given the tabloid furore surrounding Channel 4’s new reality TV show ‘Boys And Girls Alone’ (9pm, Tuesdays) – where ten boys and ten girls, aged between eight and eleven, are given the chance to experience life without adults for two weeks – you’d think terrestrial’s fourth channel had decided to screen live bear baiting instead of a bunch of kids eating Flumps all day long.

But it’s not just the red tops; 36 leading child experts, including child psychologists, paediatricians, educationalists and charities, have condemned the TV show as “child abuse”.

They want the show stopped too – in a letter to The Times this Saturday, signatories including psychologists Oliver James and Penelope Leach, the president of the Centre for Child Mental Health Sir Richard Bowlby, Great Ormond Street paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass, professor of child health psychology Hilton Davis, philosopher Prof Roger Scruton and children’s author Michael Morpurgo, called for an urgent investigation into the programme, calling for it to be taken off air “before further damage is done”.

This weekend’s letter went on to accuse Channel 4 of “plumbing new depths in broadcasting” and descending to “the sort of gladiatorial ‘sport’ that the Romans so revelled in”. In other news, social services in Cornwall (where the show is filmed) are considering legal action to stop the final two episodes of the four-part series being aired. You imagine somewhere at Channel 4 HQ, a poor researcher is thinking, “Hey, that series of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ with Nick Griffin in it will be a doddle after this…”

Still, after tuning in to make my own up mind last night, the thing that concerns me most about the show is why you’d actually bother to watch it. On the evidence of the show’s most recent episode – where the boys and girls go on a camping trip – I can only think the purpose of viewing is to laugh cruelly at the children’s ineptitude in a variety of different humiliating scenarios.

Hoot at the girls packing teddies instead of waterproof clothing! Roar at the boys falling over in a trench! Um, check yourself in for a psychological evaluation if you partook in any of the above. If you enjoy watching the misfortune of others (what I’m actually saying is if you’ve ever laughed at ‘You’ve Been Framed’…) you might just have found your new favourite show.

I can’t say whether the programme is damaging to its young ‘stars’ – I’m not a child psychologist, I’m an idiot who watches nine episodes of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ at a time. But I do think when child psychologists speak – with and in such volume – television programme makers should listen.

Inevitably, the show’s creators justify the existence of the programme as a ‘social experiment’, but I’ve never been entirely convinced that a) I pay my license fee to finance social experiments (whereas I do pay my license fee to finance Buffy…) and b) that such experiments shouldn’t be conducted behind closed doors and off our screens.

That said, I actually found the behavior of the children, forced into such challenging situations together, to be rather endearing. On the whole they were cooperative, caring, kind – and I really could watch fat ginger kids swearing until the end of time.

Still – and I hate agreeing with any kind of mentality adopted by the gutter press – the bit where the girls’ camp are forced to cut the head off a dead chicken (cue much crying, vomiting and talk of the consequences for “the chickens family”), did kinda make me think I should be watching the telly in a coliseum and not on my sofa. And it was the first time I’ve ever started an episode of ‘Shameless’ feeling a bit sick, rather than ending it feeling that way…