April is the month of the Military Child

By Meridith St. George

April is the month of the Military Child and this signifies that we have come a long way in recognizing that military service impacts more than just the service member.  There was a time when the view on military families was: if the military wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one.  We have come a ways since then, though I feel there is still much work to be done.  

There are currently around 2 million military youth 18 years of age and under.  It’s hard to imagine there was a time when we forgot about such a large segment of our military.  Today, we now have programs focused on military youth and the challenges they face; there are products designed for children as young as 0-3 to help them and their caregivers with aspects of military life and, more recently, many illustrated books helping to explain to children what their parents experience when they go to war and why they are different when they come back.

Some of the largest challenges faced by military youth stem from transitions.  They experience transitions around physical moves, transitions of caregivers in and out of their daily lives, changes in responsibilities and roles within the home, and transitions of relationships as they may need to get to know their caregiver as someone different when they come home.  Children in military families overall are resilient and adaptable .  Further, strong values within military families can serve as protective factors against mental health issues.  However, there are higher mental health issues/risks among military youth with deployed parents as compared to civilian population.  Reports of anxiety and depression increase with the number of deployments as does child maltreatment.  Additionally, a significant number (over 50 percent) of these mental health needs go unmet across the country.

Despite the risks and challenges, I feel it is necessary to highlight that being part of a military family can also be a very rich, healthy and rewarding experience.  The children of these families are often surrounded by a community, unlike any other.  Fellow military families will step up no matter what, because there is nothing that they would not do for you.  There are strong ethics and values present in military culture as well as responsibility and commitment.  Military children experience a wide range of culture and adventure in all of their transitions and can build a resiliency and character that will serve them well in adulthood. 

It has been a disservice to the military member and their families that it has taken us so long to highlight the costs of war and deployment on the family as a whole.  As a country we are beginning to see the true impacts and are attempting to meet the mental health needs of the whole family, though we are still falling short.   Just the same, it would also be a disservice to our military families to only think about the wars, the terror, the tragedy and the pain when you hear the word “military” or “veteran.”  In this, we lose sight of why they do what they do and we forget those who serve our country just as honorably, but may never deploy or see combat.  Most importantly we become blind to the perspective that military life offers many positive experiences and opportunities.  Do not assume to know that their experience has been negative, or positive, allow each service member, spouse and child the opportunity to tell their very own story.

In closing, there are 10 things that military youth want you to know:

  • We are PROUD of our parents
  • We think about war and know what it means
  • We move. A LOT 
  • We take on a lot of responsibility 
  • We live in the community 
  • We appreciate recognition of our family’s service  
  • We VALUE diversity and new experiences
  • We miss our parents 
  • In a lot of ways we are just like other youth  

“10 Things Military Teens Want You to Know”. National Military Family Association

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