Mind and Body

Balloon Boy

If it turns out that Richard and Mayumi Heene did plan the hoax that transfixed our nation, then they are the most dramatic examples yet of our celebrity, media-obsessed culture turning people into narcissistic monsters and children into props in their made-for-TV lives. The Heenes, who are storm chasers, veterans of "Wife Swap" and producers of their own YouTube video series, knew what kind of drama would glue Americans to their TV sets. This one had so many critical elements: A little boy in danger of losing his life, a chase scene involving a shiny balloon, the specter of helicopters and jets in the sky and "panic-stricken" parents. If only the Heenes had also been scantily clad, they might have actually gotten a contract for a new reality series signed before their plan deflated like . . . well . . . a balloon full of hot air. But to Richard and Mayumi Heene, you see, reality doesn't matter. Real emotions don't matter. The well-being of their children doesn't matter. Danger doesn't matter. Only fame matters. It is their drug. They crave the anesthetizing atmosphere of public recognition and the money that often follows. They want to slip the confines of their real lives and float away from their inner feelings of being small and anonymous and powerless. In this way they are no different than that old variety of addicts who left their kids to fend for themselves while looking to score crack cocaine or heroin. They are no different, even, from heroin addicts who "sell" their own children. Think about the "adventures" on which they had already brought their children. They had peddled them to a network, exposed them to a surrogate parent and TV cameras in their own home-twice. They had encouraged them to post videos of themselves online, for anyone who might like to watch (including would-be perpetrators of violence against children). They had reportedly kept them in street clothes when putting them to bed, then awakened them in the middle of the night to go running after hurricanes and tornadoes. That's about as much fun for kids as trolling dark, drug-infested streets for dealers. And it amounts to the same thing: Two parents braving danger and putting their kids in harm's way in order to get wired. The Heenes are, as I have said, no better than heroin addicts who would trade their kids for their drugs. But they are no worse. I have treated addicts of every kind, some of them seemingly beyond redemption, and again and again I have found frightened, traumatized human beings inside. These human beings were hell-bent on running away from painful events in their lives, and, with help, some of them were able to stop running, turn around, face their demons and defeat them. There is always that possibility for healing, and it is always worth the effort to make that healing happen. Safety and reality have to come first, however. To that end, if it is proven that the Heenes perpetrated a stunt that required their children to lie on national television and participate in a crime that used the nation's precious resources and the efforts of real heroes on a scam, then they should surrender custody of their children. That would be a terribly painful event for their sons, each of whom has, no doubt, forged very powerful bonds with these very pained parents. But I wonder if it would matter one bit to Richard and Mayumi Heene, as long as the tearful goodbyes were carried live on all the networks.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including


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Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.