Doomsday Preppers: child-abuse disguised as sensible survivalism?

I’ve watched several episodes of Doomsday Preppers and each time, I’ve had to turn it off because my stomach starts hurting and my blood pressure skyrockets. I get all anxious and twitchy and start yelling things at the TV like: DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING TO YOUR KIDS??? HUH? HUH?

And then I turn off the TV and go suck my thumb in a corner.

My family stockpiled for 1988 (just in case some of us got left behind at the Rapture). We stockpiled for Y2K. We stockpiled after 9/11.

Our stockpiling was tame compared to the Doomsday Preppers I see on TV. But one thing remains the same: fear.

Fear is the driving motivation. And if there’s one thing I know about fear it’s that it begets more fear. Scared people scare other people and pretty soon, you’ve got a whole network of sketched-out paranoid loony-bins making radical, life-altering decisions and seriously screwing up their kids’ lives.

Now, on a very serious and tragic note, I find it rather interesting that the boy who murdered all those children in Newtown Connecticut had a mother who was “something of a survivalist:”

Neighbors told CBS News that Nancy Lanza was a gun enthusiast and often took Adam Lanza target shooting with her. The aunt said Nancy Lanza kept guns for own safety, and had something of a survivalist mentality; she was worried about protecting her home if the economy went south.

Others have already speculated about the connection between Doomsday Preppers and the Newtown incident.

I’m not convinced there’s causality there, but I’m not about to ignore the mother’s “survivalist mentality.” There very definitely IS something about the survivalist mindset that breeds irrational behavior. And to pretend that children are not directly affected by their parents’ paranoia is shortsighted.

As far as the Doomsday Preppers show goes, it’s pretty obvious that some of these families consider prepping an entire lifestyle. Hoo, boy. TRIGGER ALERT. Raising children in an immersive, prepping lifestyle is, I believe, harmful to children.

Last night I watched the episode where a Dad uprooted his entire family and moved from suburban Florida to rural Tennessee because he believed a massive polar shift was imminent. THAT SENTENCE WAS NOT A JOKE. Real people are doing this.

Here’s the thing: being prepared is good. I won’t deny that. But even good things become harmful when the driving motivation is fear. 

All you have to do is look at the depressed kids to know that they hate what is happening. And not just hate it in a whiny, teenage “OMG, Dad is, like, making us camp again.” No.

These kids are sad because not only is their Dad mentally ill and literally ruining their lives, an entire camera crew is making a spectacle of it on TV.

I was so upset on behalf of these kids last night that I seriously wanted to call National Geographic Channel and ask them why the hell they were showing child abuse without stopping it?

Child abuse is NOT entertainment.

I’m boycotting Doomsday Preppers.

I hope you will, too.

  • Sheila Siler

    I boycott Honey Boo Boo

  • Susan

    A lot of these people are suffering from Delusional Disorder.

  • Judy Webb

    Done, boycott in place, although I have only seen it once for about 10 minutes so it certainly will not be hard to execute the boycott. When I watched it a man had a storm shelter with flame throwers, something inside me said that was just not rational.

  • HeathersHodgepodge

    I think all reality shows that have children on them are, in a way, promoting child abuse. I think reality shows are the modern-day circus freak shows. But I will say that Doomsday Preppers seems more extreme than most of the other shows (Toddlers and Tiaras being the exception). Plus, I’m puzzled by why the Doomsday people are allowing themselves to be featured. In my background, you don’t let other people know what you have stockpiled because that makes your family more vulnerable to looting when (insert catastrophe here) happens.

  • Rachel

    I have watched this several times. It ranges from cautious people to downright delusional people. I had the same reaction as you after one particular episode. This father’s way of “training” his children to be ready for the possibility of attack was to without warning attack them when they were playing. His quote was, “To them, this is just play. They don’t know they are training for the real thing.” I was horrified! Way to develop PTSD in your children!

  • Lucie

    I’d never heard of this show, but was immediately reminded of two things – the father in my church in 1988 who, because he believed the Rapture was imminent, decided that his kids should be homeschooled because, according to his wife, he “wanted his family around him” when it happened (does this make sense to anyone? It never did to me), and the TV ministers/prophets who frequently warn of America’s impending financial collapse, who stir up my elderly mother periodically. Perhaps they are indeed correct. But I have not begun stockpiling yet.

  • Tara S

    Ugh, I boycott most TV nowadays. That sounds like a TERRIBLE show! Like the show Hoarders, except there are children trying to live under the piles of newspapers.

  • Christine

    The National Geographic Channel has very poor taste in what it considers appropriate subject for a show. And they take advantage of their name to fool people (victims of the show) into thinking that they’re going to treat things seriously and with respect.

  • Jessica Formerly-Benash Mell

    Amen. Yes, absolutely: “…to pretend that children are not directly affected by their parents’ paranoia is shortsighted.” There are grades of the same ill–paranoia that causes a family to move to a different state, mundane anxiety that causes a parent to routinely prod and prohibit in response to a sense of the ambiguous, ominous “what other people would think”.

    I pray for revelation. Trouble comes because we do not see fear as fear when it is acting within/through us, cannot see anxiety as anxiety, but instead interpret it as reasonableness or wisdom.

    When we are agents of anxiety, we are agents of undue emotional burden on others. Very real emotional burden. Give us light and the humility to receive it!

  • Lara

    I have mixed feelings about this stuff being on TV. On one hand it is AWEFUL to consider this entertainment, but on the other hand it is probably good to expose it. They would be doing this whether or not they were on TV, but now they are exposed for what they are doing and people can now step in to help. What do you think?
    I suppose statistics could tell whether the show Toddlers and Tiaras has decreased the amount of kids in beauty pageants because now parents can see how ugly it is, or if it has increased it because parents want their kids on TV. I’m curious.

  • priest’s wife

    …I think you are on to something – but I’d love your thoughts on this- how do we prepare for disaster without becoming a ‘prepper’- how does one raise a child who is a virgin before marriage (I was- and I’d love my children to make this choice) but not frigid and afraid?

  • pleschke

    This is why we cancelled cable two years ago — so much bad, bad TV. Shows like this one, that include or feature children, are particularly disturbing.

  • Anonymous

    OMG,…yes! I watched maybe two episodes, and my stomach turned. Literally. The last episode I watched had a husband/father who hired actors to stage an attack on him and his family, just to see how the kids would react! Disgusting!

    I agree with you, Elizabeth. It’s abusive and damaging.

  • Rae

    I watched a few episodes of that show (or the same concept on a different network?) when it first started, and it wasn’t bad then – there was one classic rapture-and-tribulation prepper that was a married couple with no children, there was another couple that thought whether by natural disaster or terrorism they needed to get their house entirely “off the grid”, and there was one lesbian couple that was stocking up in case of socioeconomic collapse and discussed their fears about how they would be able to store the estrogen that the MTF one would need or what would happen if she had to go off it.

    I’m sad to hear that it’s gotten to that kind of low :-(

  • Anonymous

    The only reality shows I watch are on HGTV or DIY.

    There is a website I used to visit that had this mentality. They covered a wide range of topics, which is what got me interested, not just the doomsday preparation. I think this fear mentality you are describing and what I read about on that website is just totally anti-Jesus. If one does *everything* under one’s own power and never depends on the God who made them, what is the point? One is lucky to be able to see to the end of one’s nose, let alone into tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. Those who don’t know should check out Luke 12:16-21 for Jesus’ take on storing up too much for oneself.

  • Kira

    Yes. YES.
    I don’t…um…actually have cable, but I stand with you in spirit!

  • herewegokids

    EE do you feel that way about 19 & counting too? B/c sometimes I do. And then I think…well they’re fed and loved and they get to do lots of cool stuff…but still. That quote from C.S. Lewis about benevolent tyranny starts playing in a loop…there’s a lot of control going on there. I don’t know.

    • Anonymous

      I stopped watching 19 Kids & Counting because it gave me anxiety triggers. While I’m sure the Duggars are a nice, well-intentioned family and I admire their calmness and gentleness, there are certain elements of that show which give me a yucky feeling.

  • Matt Carpenter

    Personally I disagree with most of the article above…. Further, tying a “survivalist” mentality to an atrocious act of violence is appalling to say the least. Fact: there were MILLIONS of Preppers” 100 years ago…. They were called rural Americans… They canned vegetables, hunted, sewed, made quilts, cooked their own foods (no microwave even) and generally lived closer to what one could call a “balanced” lifestyle. They weren’t preparing for anything specific, they were just living life. Oddly enough even though I’m in my late 30′s I can recall my grandmother canning food and engaging in behavior that some today would call “prepping”. Yep, she was prepping for the day she’d want some fig preserves…

    The show Doomsday Preppers overdramatizes for the sake of
    ratings. It’s TV for Pete’s sake, that’s what they do. They film for weeks to get 10-15 minutes of footage after editing and show you the most dramatic elements. Most “preppers” I know aren’t “prepping” for anything specific. Most of them are simply wanting to have a what if plan that if something DID happen; Katrina, Rita, Sandy, etc then they’d be able to ensure their families basic needs were met. Gee, kind of sounds downright smart doesn’t it? Are there people who take it to the extreme? Of course there are. There are also men (if I should be so bold to call them that) who go to football games in 20 degree weather, take off their shirts to reveal the artwork they’ve decorated their chest and stomach in to show their dedication
    to their “team”. Does that mean that all NFL viewers are like that? No, of course not.

    I’d caution anyone from taking a single sentence taken perhaps out of context that came from ONE neighbor who said it to ONE
    reporter. Again, the news business is in the business of selling news. They will extricate one sentence from an hour of interviews in order to sensationalize a story that has already captured the attention of so many people in an attempt at one upmanship against their peers and other networks. It’s a business.
    I don’t know any “prepper” who would call someone who had a couple guns to be a “prepper” by the way. Being a “prepper” is having an emergency preparedness plan. As an individual who has worked in law enforcement, retail and management I can speak to the fact that ALL gov’t sectors and most big businesses have disaster plans or emergency preparedness plans. It is necessary to ensure a continuation of business or a services in a disaster. It is also wise for people to follow the same line of thinking and develop a few what if scenarios and plan accordingly. Whether it be for a what if for a fire, flood, tornado or even (God forbid) social unrest. We can look to the last year and see all of those events unfold both on American soil and around the world.
    A “prepper” is ANYONE who has ever developed a disaster plan and actually moved towards implementation of that plan. That can be in the form of extra canned goods, a few cases of spare water to something as extreme as underground bunkers and escape tunnels. Neither one indicates the person is crazy nor should degree of prepping be an indication of sanity nor insanity. After all, let’s not forget that the people who spend the MOST on “prepping” are actually governments. So if the amount of resources allocated for “prepping” is an indication of insanity, then almost every leader in every country around this
    world would be characterized as “insane.” Something to think about.