A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

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Skeptimedia is a commentary on mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the paranormal, and the supernatural.

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Skeptimedia replaces  Mass Media Funk and Mass Media Bunk. Those blogs are now archived.

Abusing children for fun and profit

14 Dec 2009. Last year, I wrote about the A&E exploitainment program Psychic Kids, featuring Lisa Miller and Chip Coffey. They're back. This time their season opener is being trumpeted by Examiner.com writer Elizabeth Costanzo, who is making some extraordinary claims without providing even a smidgen of ordinary evidence. For example, according to Costanzo:

It is important for all parents to realize that children, especially young children, have open minds and pure souls which haven’t yet been jaded by society’s constraints or disbelief in the paranormal. In other words, children are fairly ignorant of daily life’s distractions and public judgments that we all face as we join society in school, social groups and even religious organizations. Until the belief in the paranormal is crushed by the standards and norms of the adult world, most children, whether they retain any psychic gifts as adults or not, are more susceptible to ghostly visits. They haven’t closed the door on the possibility of spiritual activity, and this is why more children than adults complain of “monsters” under the bed or in the closet and ghosts talking to them when no one else is present.

What does it mean for a child to have an "open mind and a pure soul" except that children are somewhat pliable and can be led to believe all kinds of nonsense by their parents, priests, television shows, and so on. Where is the evidence that the belief in the paranormal is "crushed by the standards and norms of the adult world"? Hasn't Costanzo heard the news? In America, 75% of the adult population believes in some sort of paranormal phenomenon. The adult norm is belief in the paranormal, not disbelief. A good 25% of American adults even believe in reincarnation.

I suspect that the reason more children than adults complain about monsters or ghosts under the bed or in the closet is that they've grown up and know better. But Costanza thinks she has a better explanation:

...paranormal researchers and parapsychologists theorize that children are not only more willing to see spirits, but their youth and therefore, their proximity to the “other side” enables them to see and communicate with the dead. They have only recently left the “other side” to come into the world of the living so they retain unconscious memories of the spirit. As a result, when a young child is “visited” by a spirit or ghost, the child is not necessarily alarmed at the presence because it does not seem “supernatural” in their eyes. The spirit world only becomes “supernatural” when we are conditioned to believe this.

I'm sure Costanza can find paranormal researchers and parapsychologists who are willing to speculate that children have recently left "the other side" and retain unconscious memories of spirits. After all, such speculation costs them nothing and there will always be people like Costanza ready to lap it up. But let's call this evidence what it is: totally made up out of thin air. The notion that a child's spirit was in recent contact with spirits of dead people is untestable, at odds with current knowledge regarding animal reproduction, and little more than a metaphysical belief that fits her narrative.

Costanza concludes her evidence-challenged promotion of A&E's sick programming by answering her own question (don't expect any proof) and speculating on the loneliness of those poor children who see ghosts while growing up in a world where their beliefs might be challenged:

Are some children seeing ghosts? Yes. For those who genuinely do see the dead, imagine what a lonely place that is for a child. Some of these children grow up and out of their openness and willingness to accept the paranormal, but some never lose that purity or their gifts.

Or, one might say, some of these children grow up period. They're not retaining any special "purity" by believing in ghosts. They're being misled if they are being taught to believe that seeing ghosts is a "gift." A&E, the parents of these children, Lisa Miller, Chip Coffey, and promoters like Elizabeth Costanza ought to be identified for what they are: child abusers. Encouraging children to believe they are psychic and that dead people are trying to communicate with them is a form of abuse, especially when it is done before a television audience. To call it entertainment or educational or supportive of gifted children, as Costanza does, is misguided, self-serving, and exploitative.

If A&E wanted to educate or support children and their families, they would do well to produce a program that explains how subjective validation and cold reading can lead even the most intelligent among us to superstitious beliefs about spirit communication.

further reading

My commentaries on various alleged psychics and psychic powers:

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