German reality TV show under fire for entrusting babies to teens | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 02.06.2009
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German reality TV show under fire for entrusting babies to teens

In a new German TV series, teenage couples are given the task of parenting - very real babies - for a few days. The series was aimed at discouraging teen pregnancy, but it's gotten slammed by children's rights groups.

Kathrin B. (r.) with her baby Lasse

Lasse's mother said she was happy with the teenage replacement parents

Modeled after the British television show "The Baby Borrowers," the German version premieres on Wednesday, June 3.

In "Erwachsene auf Probe" - roughly, "the grown-up test" - four couples between the ages of 16 and 19 each get a baby on loan from its real parents and take over the diaper changing, feeding and other typical infant responsibilities for four days. The participating babies were between seven and 14 months old.

All of the teenage couples have said they're interested in starting families of their own and want to prove they can do it in front of rolling cameras.

Unnecessary stress for the babies

Even before its premiere, the show has been slammed by politicians, psychiatrists and the German midwives association.

"Normally, babies wouldn't voluntarily go to strangers," Munich child psychiatrist Karl-Heinz Brisch said in an interview with the German daily Tagesspiegel. "It causes stress and fear for children of this age to be held by strangers."

A mother monitors the work of the replacement parents

A mother monitors the work of the replacement parents

Brisch added that he couldn't understand why the medical personnel present during the filming of the show didn't protest.

According to the private broadcaster, RTL, the children's parents and a child psychologist stood behind the camera at all times and could have intervened when they wanted to.

Despite calls for the series to be banned, RTL has adamantly defended it. The German movie industry's voluntary regulation group also gave the show a green light.

Show cannot be banned completely

"I think it was a big misunderstanding, that some people went to the state media institutions and said, you have to ban the show. But that would be censorship," said Axel Duerr from the state media institution. "The state media institutions aren't like the censorship board, which checks broadcasts beforehand and approves them or demands that certain changes be made."

The series has already been produced, while a complete ban isn't possible, Duerr said certain requirements could potentially be placed on the show - "like that it's only broadcast after a certain time and can't be re-run in the morning programming."

The association of German midwives, which called the series a form of prostitution and has written complaint letters to the broadcaster, said that the real problem is that very young babies were separated from their parents during the filming.

"The main effect is being traumatized, particular at such an early age," Jennifer Jacque-Rodney from the association. "We are very much concentrating on the bonding aspect between babies and their parents. And this doesn't just start when the baby is born, but it starts prenatally. And to separate a baby at such an early age can have traumatizing effects."

A pregnant woman holds a sonogram picture

Opinions are split on whether the show will discourage teenage pregnancy

Since the show was produced nine months ago, it's too late now to prevent any potentially traumatizing effects. In Jacque-Rodney's opinion, the series won't necessarily prevent teenage pregnancy - which was its original aim.

Real life with real babies

"You know they have pocket money, they have a house, they have this child, everything is already made, it might not prevent teenage pregnancies but make the girls think, 'okay this looks great, I will be accepted in society, everything is more or less prepared, all I need to do is look after this child,'" said Jacque-Rodney. "It could have the opposite effect.“

Seventeen-year-old Tamara and her 18-year-old boyfriend Bastian were participants on the show and looked after a baby boy named Lasse. Tamara said being a mom wasn't an easy job and there were situations where she was completely overwhelmed.

"In the morning, Lasse's mom brought him over and came in a played for a little bit with us, so that Lasse got used to the apartment and noticed that his mom was still there," said Bastian.

Not only was Lasse's mother nearby at all times during the shooting, the 10-month-old also went home with her in the evenings.

The TV-documentary aimed to simulate reality as much as possible, so the participants had some money to go shopping and they also had to go to work and organize their daily routine with the baby.

Teen pregnancy rate already sinking

Bastian, Tamara, Kathrin B. and her baby Lasse

Bastian and Tamara (left) still want a baby after being on the show

Afterwards, Lasse's mother said she was pleased with the way the teenagers dealt with her son and thinks that the criticism will calm down when the first sequences will be shown on TV. "The people will see what the series is really about," she said.

According to official statistics, the number of teenage pregnancies in Germany and most of Europe has been decreasing. Still, in 2006, three and a half percent of all births in Germany - or nearly 24,000 babies - were to mothers under the age of 20.

In contrast to Jacque-Rodney, Tamara said she thought the show would help some people her age make good choices.

All five of the American couples split up after the series, but Bastian and Tamara are still together and, they say, happier than ever. They still want a baby - but that can wait a few years.

Autor: Arne Lichtenberg

Editor: Kate Bowen

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