Should a Toddlers & Tiaras mom lose custody of her child?

The Week

A stage mother who put a 4-year-old in fake Dolly Parton boobs is charged with being an unfit parent

A judge has ordered Lindsay Jackson, a mom from TLC's reality show Toddlers & Tiaras, to stop entering her now 5-year-old daughter, Madiysyn "Mady" Verst, in beauty pageants while the child's parents fight for custody. Mady's dad, Bill Verst, backed up by a court-appointed psychologist, says Jackson is exploiting their little girl — in one 2011 episode of the show, Jackson padded the then-4-year-old's chest with fake boobs and an improbably bulbous rear end for a Dolly Parton routine. Jackson, for her part, is indignant that the court would consider taking her child away simply because she puts the little girl in pageants. "It's not illegal," Jackson says. "I shouldn't be at risk of losing my child simply because she participates in a hobby that some people don't like." Is the judge doing what's right for the child, or trampling Jackson's rights as a parent?

Jackson should lose custody: Mady's dad is "100 percent correct," says Dr. Keith Ablow at Fox News. Sexualizing your daughter in a totally inappropriate way, then pimping her out to a TV show, "risks serious psychological injury," from major depression to panic disorder. This is either "child abuse or child neglect or both." Any parent who would do this to her kid has forfeited her rights as a parent.
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Taking Mady away is a bit severe: "I think these pageants are terrible," legal analyst Dan Abrams tells Good Morning America, but for a court to strip a mom of custody over this sets "a dangerous precedent." There's no clear demonstration of harm. And if the judge decides the nature of the pageants is enough to justify taking primary custody away from Jackson, it could blow custody battles around the nation wide open.
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Let's not act so surprised: A case like this was inevitable, says Tracie Egan Morrissey at Jezebel. Indeed, "it's surprising that it's taken this long for custody to be at stake" over misbehavior on Toddlers & Tiaras. From a 4-year-old in a "sexy police officer" costume to dressing "a 3-year-old up as a hooker," TLC "audiences have been enraged" several times over "some of the parenting techniques of pageant moms. Now, this case may finally "set a precedent that participating in child beauty pageants equates to being an unfit parent." Stay tuned — the courtroom proceedings resume Aug. 31.
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