~ By Brooke
This Friday we honor the thousands of men and women who have served in our armed forces. When I was younger, Veterans Day was marked with modest school programs attended by older gentlemen from the community, donning caps that stated what branch or war they served in. In the past decade, I have graduated from high school as well as college, moved away from home, and found a job I enjoy. Throughout these ten years of personal life changes, one constant has been that our country has been at war — on two fronts for much of that time. I have watched friends come home from Iraq and Afghanistan (many of whom struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), I have heard how families cope with the loss of their loved ones who have served, and I have seen some of the struggles of reintegration. The word “veteran” now means something much different to me than when I was younger, as does the phrase, “honor our veterans.”
Even with the anticipated withdrawal of troops from Iraq, many understand that this does not mean the Iraq war is over (not to mention, we still have close to 90,000 troops in Afghanistan). For those who work with youth, a logical question might be, “How is the war affecting the children of our armed forces?” A recent study by the University of Washington’s School of Public Health provides some answers; they found that “adolescent boys with at least one parent in the military are at elevated risk of engaging in school-based physical fighting, carrying a weapon and joining a gang.” The National Military Family Association and the RAND Health Center for Military Health Policy Research also conducted research on the topic of military youth experiences, the results of which can be found in their extensive report, “Views from the Homefront: The Experiences of Youth and Spouses from Military Families.”
If you work with youth who have at least one parent or close family member in the armed forces, I encourage you to read this report, as it details so much more than I can share here. However, I do want to share some of the key findings I found particularly interesting:
• For teens’ deployment experience, three concerns emerge: Dealing with life without the deployed parent, Helping the remaining caregiver deal with life without deployed parent, and Not having people in the community understand what deployment is like.
• Girls and older teens report higher levels of reintegration challenges.
• For teens, two of the most frequently reported reintegration challenges were: Fitting the returning parent back into the home routine and worrying about the next deployment.
• Youth who reported higher levels of anxiety during deployment (30%), scored lower school connectedness scores. Also, teens who reported “more problems communicating with caregivers also reported more problems feeling connected to school.”
• About 20% of caregivers reported their youth needed mental health services, and “two-thirds of those caregivers attributed this need to deployment.”
• “Caregivers in the study with spouses in the Reserve component (Guard or Reserve) were more likely to report that their children faced deployment and reintegration challenges.”
Going through adolescence is difficult enough. For youth in military families, they also have to navigate changing family dynamics, experience the second-hand effects of PTSD, and live with the concern their parents might be deployed – again and again. Worse yet, they have to worry that their parent might not return home. While no easy fix or solution is clear, being aware of the unique needs and experiences of military youth is important. Below I’ve listed some online resources for military youth.