Suzanne Tobias

Kids' parties on TV have little relation to reality

America must love its reality shows because they just keep coming, like a big ugly freight train of vulgarity, excess and questionable parenting.

One of the latest, "Outrageous Kid Parties," highlights parents who go overboard and spend "a small fortune" on a child's birthday or other celebration.

Now I don't know how folks at the TLC network define "small fortune," but $32,000 for a 6-year-old's princess party, complete with a horse-drawn carriage, nine-tier cake and 200-person guest list, does not seem small to me.

That is an actual fortune.

I wasn't aware of the show until my friend Andrea railed against it on Facebook recently, saying, "How many kids in Africa could be fed with that $$$?!"

Indeed. It looks like "Outrageous Kid Parties" fits into that new genre of television programming that the Entertainment Weekly blog PopWatch calls "horrifying and hypnotic" — shows like "Toddlers and Tiaras," "Real Housewives" and "My Super Sweet 16."

They're awful.

They're ridiculous.

You can't believe people think or act or spend money or raise their kids that way.

And somehow, you can't turn away.

I started watching "Dance Moms" on Lifetime this summer and made the mistake of letting my 13-year-old daughter watch the first episode along with me.

(That could be a new reality show, in fact: "Moms Who Let Their Teenagers Watch This Brain-Rotting Garbage," premiering Friday after "My Strange Addiction!")

Hannah used to dance, though not competitively like the girls on the show. And I used to be a dance mom, though not the cut-throat, spend-$20,000-a-year-on-dance type like these moms.

So we stared in fascination and disbelief at the inner workings of the Abby Lee Dance Company. We gasped at Miller's in-your-face style and shook our heads at how the moms obsessed about first-place trophies and Broadway stages.

Later that evening, Hannah turned to me and said, "I can't stop thinking about that 'Dance Moms' show."

"Me either," I said. "Can you believe people live like that?"

Most don't, of course. We all know enough about reality TV to recognize that there's not much reality to it. But that won't stop TLC — formerly, ironically, The Learning Channel — from sharing "Outrageous Kid Parties" with the world.

"Betty is breaking the bank to transform her backyard into a medieval kingdom," one commercial declares, "with sword-fighting knights, a labyrinth and a fire-breathing dragon cake!"

My kids won't be watching this show. They already complain that they don't have "real" parties — or haven't since Jack's second birthday, when we wore cowboy hats and rented a pony named Cinnamon — just family and a few friends at our house to celebrate.

No horse-drawn carriages. No Egyptian temple with belly dancers, pyramids and a snake charmer. No Hawaiian luau with hula dancers and fire throwers.

Just cake and ice cream. Sometimes there's a movie or a trip to the pool. I rarely have time to mail proper invites, so we call a friend's mom, tell her there's a sleepover, buy some extra snacks, call it a party.

Most parents I know call that reality.