There are few things more heartwarming than seeing troops safely return to their families, and there are now two new reality shows that capitalize on this: Lifetime's Coming Home and TLC's Surprise Homecoming. The producers say the goal is to showcase uplifting stories about military personnel and create special moments for the families, but experts say filming a parent's surprise return may put extra stress on children.
It's no surprise that children whose parents are deployed have more anxiety and emotional problems than kids whose parents aren't in the military. However, the Washington Post reports that a study last year found that unlike adult family members, kids' anxiety stays high even after their parents return. The exact cause of this anxiety isn't clear, but kids may have a harder time understanding why the parent left and processing that for the time being, they're no longer in danger.
Catherine Mogil, a clinical psychologist who worked on the study, says inserting a camera crew into what's already an intense emotional moment can put kids under even more pressure. "Surprises, even when positive, can be challenging and really emotionally laden for them," Mogil says.
The shows' producers point out that parents choose to have their kids featured on the programs. Tom Forman, chief executive of the production company behind Coming Home, says:
"This is not a show about sticking cameras in on people's personal moments when they're not wanted ... We are invited in by moms and dads who want to share this moment with the country, who are incredibly proud of their service both at home and abroad, and who believe their kids are going to have an unbelievably fun day and look back on this as the best home movies they've ever shot."
He adds, "I think everybody likes being reminded that there's a happy ending to many of these stories." At a time when many military families feel invisible, the shows can help other families appreciate their sacrifice. On the other hand, these programs only show one small portion of what military families go through. Many service members will be redeployed, or face difficulty readjusting to day to day life. The real ending to these stories often isn't as simple or happy as it appears on television.
TV Family Reunions May Not Be Good For Soldiers' Children [Washington Post]