Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hoarding and Kids

Hoarders is a trending topic on Twitter today because last night was the premiere of the new season on A&E. There weren't many hoarding shows on television when I wrote Dirty Little Secrets. There was the documentary My Mother's Garden (whose praises I've sung in many a blog post) and a special on TLC along with a couple of Dr. Phil episodes that focused on the disorder. Now, both A&E and TLC have hoarding series and for the most part I think it's a good thing. The only way to neutralize dirty secrets is to shine a spotlight on them and get them out in the open, and I think these shows do a lot to start the dialogue (despite all of the snarky, ignorant comments that show up on the Hoarder's Facebook page after every episode). Bringing the disorder out into the mainstream will hopefully give others the courage to speak out and get the help they or their loved ones need. There is only one time when my feelings about these shows falters and that's when there are kids involved.

I just watched the Tivo'd episodes of the new Hoarders on A&E series back to back. For the first half hour after they were over, all I could say was 'wow'. A&E has certainly outdone themselves this season by finding some of the most difficult subjects to show on TV. (If you haven't seen them, you can watch them in full on A&E's website.)Both episodes were intense, disturbing and heartwrenching but I found myself with tears in my eyes for much of Teri's story because of her kids.

(This is a photo of Teri's living room before the cleanup.)

For the first time since I can remember, one of the organizers felt the need to call Child Protective Services because of the living conditions in Teri's Hawaiian home. I've had the pleasure of striking up an online relationship with Geralin Thomas, one of the show's organizers, and I know how difficult some of the episodes can be on them, so I know it wasn't a decision that the show took lightly. Although the children ultimately stayed in the home, emotions ran high for everyone in that episode and eight year old Jordan cried repeatedly during her interview. That was the point when I started asking myself if this was all okay. Who are we to sit and watch the misery that children are going through?

On the one hand, I think it's good for the kids to realize that none of this is their fault. One of the main points of my book was that the kids can't take responsibility for the mental disorder of the adults around them. It would be a good thing for other kids who are living in hoarding situations to see kids just like them on TV and know they're not alone. Those are the good things. But then I wonder how the kids might feel at school, with their friends and a few years down the road to know that their difficult lives were laid out on television for us all to digest and comment on.

I don't have an answer. Guess it's good that I'm not running the network.

On this date: In 1940, my dad was born. Happy Birthday POPPA!!!!!!


Ishta Mercurio said...

Mmm. This raises some really good questions. As you said, whenever we watch reality shows like American Idol or Hoarders or The Bachelor or Home Makeover or whatever is out there, for the most part these are adults. However badly they do, and however badly they are portrayed, they knew what they were getting into. That's not the case with kids, though. Will having their family's dirty laundry aired so publicly be the final nail in their social coffins, or will it get them the help they need to lead healthy, balanced lives? Why aren't the identities of families with kids protected (fake names, blurred faces) in shows like this?

It makes me wonder about the kids in reality shows like "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" (or whatever it was - I never watch reality TV) and Hoarders - how will they be as they grow up? Will having been on these shows have a good impact on them? Will they develop into healthy, stable adults? I hope so, but in a lot of instances, I doubt it. It's really sad.

cynjay said...

Really good points. I think the networks show the kids on the hoarding shows so that we can get the full effect on the family. It wouldn't be the same if they were absent or blurred out. Still not sure I agree with it tho.

Jon and Kate's kids are train wrecks waiting to happen, but that's another post altogether.