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Extension > Youth Development Insight > How can we support youth who are "suddenly military"?

How can we support youth who are "suddenly military"?


Kate-Walker.jpgUS military families are facing unprecedented times of complexity and stress due to overseas deployment. Young people in these families have unique concerns and challenges, and often feel upset, distracted and scared as loved ones are deployed, sometimes multiple times. Many feel unable to tell anyone about it.

Youth program staff may be working with these "suddenly military" youth and not be aware of it, particularly when the deployed family member is in the US National Guard and Reserve. How can we better equip those working with youth in civilian settings to recognize and meet the needs of military youth?

As part of the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development's national research and outreach, we recently invited Dr. Angela Huebner, associate professor in human development at Virginia Tech, to present findings on the impact of deployment on military youth and families. The event was funded by the Department of Defense through the Arizona Center for Research and Outreach.

Youth programs can be an important protective factor for young people, but staying involved when a parent is deployed can be a challenge for them. Program staff need to be aware that during parental deployment, youth may have other family obligations or need transportation or financial assistance to stay involved. There are programs to help, but as a community we need to have the issues facing military youth on our radar.

During the event, teen speaker Kiana Kelii, a National Guard youth and member of the Minnesota Military Teen Panel, shared her own home front experience of deployment. I was struck by Kiana's account of missing assignment deadlines and being dropped from the honors programs at school when her grades slipped during her father's deployment. Might her teachers have handled her situation differently if they had been aware of what was happening at home?

According to Dr. Huebner, if you know of a young person from a military family, some ways to help them cope with deployment are to:

  • Prepare them for change. Talk about the situation and what everyone can do to cope.
  • Educate them on normative responses to having a parent deployed, like worry, and poor concentration.
  • Normalize stress and conflict in the family. Have family meetings to address how everyone is feeling.
  • Encourage them to maintain positive friendships and support networks, especially with other youth with deployed parents.

But the fact is that with thousands of families affected in every state, program staff may be working with military families and not be aware of it. How else can we as a community--those of us working with and on behalf of youth--intentionally support young people before, during or after the deployment of a parent or loved one? If you have military youth in your program, classroom or neighborhood, what experiences have you had?

--Kate Walker, research associate

Editor's note: The Extension Center for Youth Development offers support to youth in military families through Minnesota Operation: Military Kids


Kia Harries said:

Working with the Operation: Military Kids (OMK) program has raised my awareness of the challenges occurring with military youth and families around the entire emotional cycle of deployment. There is an interest from communities (especially those directly impacted by deployment) to learn more, but they don't often know where to turn to learn more. One program offered by OMK is a "Hidden Heroes" training - that spells out the seven stages of deployment that youth and families experience, as well as exploring issues that youth face at different ages. Also emphasized are signs of resiliency that do occur during a deployment. This training allows people to learn more, better understand and know how to respond and be supportive within a community. Schools, community organizations and agency staff have found this training to be very helpful.

I presented at a workshop today with two teens who have experienced their first deployment. Their story began with the fear of learning of their dad's deployment and the preparation for their change in daily life. They talked about how the family prepared and how they dealt with the changes in their routines, but also how they communicated differently with one another and their dad. They emphasized how the year since dad has been home from the deployment has been different than any of them imagined and what they have learned about themselves because of this deployment. As a family, they are still working through some issues, but they emphasized the importance of having talked through many things prior to the deployment and how critical those discussions have been to their present status of emotional health. They also mentioned how the "community" played a role in their ability to cope with the issues of deployment - the school, the neighborhood, their faith community and friends - all were important to providing support over that year of deployment.

This is a challenging issue and continued awareness and information sharing are critical to supporting the military youth and families. Dr. Huebner's presentation was a great step in opening that door of information and sharing the research that tells this important story.

Kate Walker said:

Thanks for your comment, Kia! OMK’s Hidden Heroes training is a wonderful resource to increase ordinary citizens’ awareness and understanding of the deployment cycle and the unique issues facing military youth. And hearing the stories from young people themselves is such a powerful call to action. Can you share any specific ways that the training encourages teachers, youth workers or counselors to be supportive of military families experiencing deployment? Were there key examples the young people shared of how community members played a role in helping them cope with parental deployment?

Dale Blyth said:

Thnaks Kate for highlighting such a critical issue and the rich presentation and discussion that occurred with Angie Huebner and the panel at the symposium. I was particularly struck by how easy it has been to ignore these realities for families today. While our knowledge about the stresses of deployment have increased our recognition of the large number of families in fact deployed seems to have become old news. Just thinking about deployment in my life expereinces made me aware of how much more intetntional I could be. My nephew-in-law is in the Marines and has been delployed once and is being redeployed. He and my neice just had a baby a few months ago. While I thought about how hard it will be for her, I was not very mindful about what my family and I can do. Development happens - in every context every day-- what matters is what we do to help make that development positive. Doing so for and with our military families is a must. Thnaks for the reminder.

Kate Walker said:

Thanks for your comment -- I agree with so much of what you said. As someone who’s sheltered from the realities of deployment, the symposium was eye-opening for me. Young people regularly face challenges in their lives, and it is so important that the adults who work with them are tuned in to those issues and concerns. Or in your case, being reminded of how you can support your niece’s family -- I wish them all the best! -- Kate Walker

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