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The Bachelor, Married at First Sight's child stars at risk of exploitation

Sydney Morning Herald logoSydney Morning Herald 23/12/2016 Ebony Bowden

The Bachelor season three's Sam Wood with Snezana Markoski and her daughter Eve during an episode of the show last year.

The Bachelor season three's Sam Wood with Snezana Markoski and her daughter Eve during an episode of the show last year.
© Channel Ten

Children whose single parents appear on reality romance shows such as The Bachelor Australia are at risk of being exploited by the media and ostracised at school, child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg has warned.

As Nine's Married at First Sight revealed a single mother would be part of their line-up next year, Carr-Gregg said he feared contestant's children were being exploited for the sake of ratings.

With single mothers Snezana Markoski and Alex Nation both winning the past two seasons of The Bachelor Australia, producers of reality programs will increasingly look to include single parents in their casting to strike TV gold. But at what cost?

"My issue is around consent. Very young children obviously can't consent and the parents are consenting on their behalf," he said.

"With this digital age we're living in, those images stick around for a very long time. They have the capacity to impact on these young people for a long time and that doesn't make me feel very comfortable at all."

In the case of Markoski and Nation, the pair had very different approaches to their children's involvement on the series.

Markoski's daughter Eve was filmed meeting Bachelor Sam Wood in the semi-finale last year, whereas Nation's son Elijah didn't meet partner Richie Strahan until several months after filming finished.

But that didn't mean Daily Mail-funded paparazzi weren't waiting at the gate of Elijah's Melbourne school to photograph mother and son going about their daily routine as the show aired on Ten.

When Elijah and Strahan were ready to meet, OK! Magazine was given an exclusive photo shoot with the new family unit just weeks later.

"It's very, very important that young people come into a school environment unencumbered," Carr-Gregg said. "If there's anything on national television which will impact them adversely that's going to make integrating into school very hard."

"It's going to impact on their friends and thirdly it's going to impact on their relationship with the adult."

Both Bachelor Australia winners have insisted their children supported them and even encouraged them to go on the series, but Carr-Gregg argued that didn't mean much.

"They don't have the cognitive, social or psychological maturity to anticipate of fully understand what it is they're consenting to. So I regard consent given by young children under those circumstances as nonsense."

In the Married at First Sight trailer released overnight, Cronulla single mother Lauren's son Dylan, 11, is unsurprisingly a huge focus. Playing soccer together, Lauren becomes emotional when she talks about the fact she hasn't been able to provide him with a solid family unit.

Another contestant in the upcoming fourth season of the top-rating series is divorced 53-year-old John, whose adult daughters sing his praises in the promo trailer.

It's powerful television and you can bet the use of single parents as pawns on romance reality programming won't be declining any time soon.

Carr-Gregg considers their portrayal on national television "very, very positive" in order to break down stigma attached to single parents in society - as long as the children don't become cast members.

"I'm sure that there are ways you could do it that doesn't involve the children being exploited, but unfortunately that's not going to get you the ratings."

Married at First Sight kicks off on January 30, 2017.

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