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Take it from me, parents just don’t understand

October 29th, 2009

People often joke about what people do to get their 15 minutes of fame – but this past week I saw a few stunts that went a bit too far. It’s one thing to embarrass yourself on one of those reality shows or do something so bizarre that it merits media coverage, but the new trend seems to be using kids so the parents can gain some recognition.

First, there was the great “Balloon Boy” scam, when former “Survivor” contestant Richard Heene claimed his six-year-old son, Falcon, had floated away in a balloon contraption. CNN cut away from a speech by President Obama to follow the balloon as rescuers thought of a way to save the child.

Moments later, it was realized that there had been a terrible mistake, and young Falcon was in the family’s garage the whole time.

Heene and his family got what they wanted – some national media coverage – when they were invited on to Wolf Blitzer’s program on CNN. When probed by the host, young Falcon told the host that his family “did it for the show” – suggesting that he was instructed what to do by his dad to get some publicity.

I also saw a story on ABC about five-year-old bodybuilder Giuliano Stroe of Romania. Stroe recently set a world record for fastest 10-meter hand crawl, using his big biceps to get himself to the finish line.

He went before the media, telling them it took years of hard work. He’s five!

Do you mean to tell me that a five-year-old approaches his parents and says he wants to set a world record?  Or maybe – just maybe – dad dreams this up as a way to get some fame and a small fortune. He is the one who has been taking the kid to the gym every day since he was two. That can’t be too healthy.

We’ve seen this done before. Famed Oakland Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich received attention from a young age when his father Marv, a former captain of the football team at USC and strength and conditioning coach for the Raiders, dreamed up the idea of raising his toddler in the “perfect” football environment.

Marv Marinovich was chronicled in a Sports Illustrated article in 1988 when he told the media about the way he groomed his children.

“He has never eaten a Big Mac or an Oreo or a Ding Dong. When he went to birthday parties as a kid, he would take his own cake and ice cream to avoid sugar and refined white flour. He would eat homemade catsup, prepared with honey. He did consume beef but not the kind injected with hormones. He ate only unprocessed dairy products. He teethed on frozen kidney.”

Nutrition was not the only area in which Marinovich tried to give his son a head start.

“When Todd was one month old, Marv was already working on his son’s physical conditioning. He stretched his hamstrings. Pushups were next. Marv invented a game in which Todd would try to lift a medicine ball onto a kitchen counter. Marv also put him on a balance beam. Both activities grew easier when Todd learned to walk.”

Ironically, the “perfect” upbringing resulted in a far from perfect NFL career, one that was full of substance abuse and other personal problems. I wonder where those stemmed from.

The point is, there’s a lot of ways to make a buck or gain some fame – usually a right way or a wrong way. When we start manipulating offspring, I think it’s clear we have gone too far.