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Navy families resort to TV rationing | EVERETT, Wash, (UPI) -- The strict rationing of television viewing has been added to the always-daunting task Navy wives have of maintaining a sense of normalcy for their children while their spouses are at sea.

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln recently passed the nine-month mark since it sailed out of Puget Sound on its way to the Persian Gulf, and while most of the crew may not exactly be in direct harm's way, their families back in the Seattle area are on guard against overloading the senses with a constant barrage of televised war news.

"They hear about it in school and they talk about it in school because a lot of the kids are military," said Cindy Johnson, mother of four boys and wife of a Lincoln crewman. "But, I try to keep them from seeing every aspect of it all the time."

Experts on child psychology have urged American parents to keep their young ones away from the very grown-up reports being splashed across the screen. Military offspring, however, have a vested interest in what is going on overseas and it appears that many military parents now must decide just how much "Iraq news" their young children may watch.

Johnson and her fellow Lincoln wife, Tracy Welch, told United Press International that since the opening days of the campaign, they have made it a point to treat Iraq not as the main focus of their lives, but maybe as a close second.

"I don't keep it up in my mind, and I don't sit and just watch the news," said Welch, "I haven't let it dominate my life."

The two women are married to career Navy men who have made repeated "WestPacs" -- the name given to the regular deployment of carriers and escort ships to the western Pacific Ocean and Persian Gulf region. Such deployments are supposed to last six months, although the Lincoln has been at sea for nine months with no return date set.

While the husbands -- and in many cases, the wives -- are away, the Lincoln's spouses have the responsibility of keeping the home fires burning, the bills paid, and the children on the straight and narrow. The ship that took part in the first Gulf War and the recent campaign in Afghanistan is now center stage in a televised drama being played out virtually live in front of the world.

Psychologists agree that too much exposure to grisly images and dire warnings of chemical weapons or terrorist attacks can have a telling effect on young minds and emotions. However, with military families often clustered around their bases, it's impossible to control what is heard in the schoolyard.

Some experts in child psychology said it was best that children be filled in on what is going on from an authoritative source rather than shielded to the point that they are subject to rumor and exaggeration.

"Children who do not know the real facts about the war will fantasize their own version of reality, which could cause more psychological trauma than would occur by a clear and understandable explanation of the actual events," said Robert Butterworth, a Los Angeles child psychologist. "Honesty regarding the Gulf conflict while talking about their fears in a supportive environment is crucial."

Butterworth recommends going so far as to conduct family "war briefings" on the day's developments. Johnson and Welch may not choose go that far, but they are determined to make sure their children don't overdose on the news.

"If something really critical is happening, I try to let them know because I'd rather they found out about it from me than find out from their friends," Johnson said. "I also don't want them to have to feel like they are living every minute of it."

At the same time, they also try not to dwell on the war in their communications with their sailor husbands, which are far more frequent than they were in decades past thanks to the advent of e-mail.

Digital discussions are generally limited to the home front and the activities of the family.

"I try to be his outlet for the positive," said Johnson.

Because the Lincoln has been away for so long, the families of her crew have gotten into a routine and are as used to the absence as they can get. An actual shooting war has made the long days seem a little longer for the adults as well as the children.

"There's always a worry," lamented Welch, who readily admits she has no trouble falling to sleep after a long day. "I think everybody worries whether you think your spouse is some place safe or not. I find myself worrying about people who are on the ground and aren't even in the same branch of the military."

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