Late Breaking News
Army War College Study Provides Insight on Children with Deployed Parents
- Categorized in: April 2010
WASHINGTON, DC—Children of frequently-deployed soldiers may be handling deployments better than their parents think, a recent study found. While 36% of soldiers and 45% of spouses surveyed thought that their children were coping well or very well with their deployments, 56% of the adolescent children surveyed said that they were coping well or very well. “We are surprised to see that 56% of kids say they are doing not okay, but well or very well overall with deployments. That surprised us,” said one of the authors, Leonard Wong, PhD, a research professor at the US Army War College.
Still, Wong noted that 17% of youth between the ages of 11 and 17 surveyed said that they were coping poorly or very poorly. If that finding is extrapolated, the implication is that over 20,000 adolescent children are not coping well with deployments. “If one out of six Army adolescents report doing poorly with repeated deployments, the situation can hardly be considered acceptable,” the study stated.
The study, The Effects of Multiple Deployments on Army Adolescents, was conducted by Wong and co-author Stephen Gerras, PhD, and utilized the perspectives of over 2,000 soldiers, 700 spouses, and 500 Army children between 11 and 17 through an online survey. In addition, study researchers interviewed over 100 Army adolescents at eight Army installations throughout the US.
While previous studies have looked at the question of how children were faring from the vantage point of the deployed parent or spouse, the authors of the current study were particularly interested in the perspective of the children themselves.
Researchers found that the perception of soldiers was that the more deployments their adolescent child had experienced in the past, the higher the child’s stress was during the current deployment. While that conclusion did not surprise the researchers, the perspective of the children was unexpected: adolescents who had experienced two previous deployments reported lower average stress than those with only one deployment in their past. The mean deployment stress of adolescents who had experienced three deployments was even lower. “With each new deployment, the child’s stress level actually goes down,” Wong said. One likely explanation is that children matured and learned to cope throughout each successive deployment.
The researchers also compared youth by age and by whether they had a deploying parent. They found that children from ages 11 to 13 with a deployed parent reported higher levels of stress than adolescents with parents who have not deployed. On the other hand, youth ages 14 to 16 reported lower stress than those children who did not have a parent deployed. Interviews done by the researchers of the 14 to 16-year-old adolescents revealed that they were experiencing more independence when the parent was deployed and not at home. The decrease in supervision and restrictions may explain why these young people expressed that they felt less stress than their counterparts who did not have a deployed parent, according to the study. “This is the time that kids start getting independent and they want to start breaking away and they want their space,” Wong said.
However, the researchers found that the 17-year-old adolescents with deployed parents reported higher stress levels than the 11 to 16-year-olds with deployed parents. Through interviews, the researchers found that these youth expressed disappointment that the parent would miss their high school graduation and college application process, among other things.
The researchers also sought to learn the factors that might mitigate the stresses of deployments on young people. “With multiple deployments [being] more commonplace and the literature maturing, it may now be appropriate to research efforts to minimize stress,” the study stated. One of the most effective ways to influence the stress of adolescents during a deployment is participation in activities, particularly sports. “Participation in sports is critical as it provides a diversion from the stress that occurs during deployment,” the study stated. A strong family and a belief that America supports the war are also important. Building strong family relationships is something that must begin months or years before the deployment.
The factors that best predicted a child’s overall ability to cope with a life of deployments include a child’s belief that soldiers are making a difference, a strong family, the adolescent’s belief that the American public supports the war, and a strong non-deployed spouse. “The attitudes of Army adolescents are important predicators of deployment stress and the ability to cope with a life of deployments,” said Wong.
Army adolescents often grow up in an environment “laden with lofty notions such as sacrifice, duty and selfless service,” according to the study. “They are accustomed to hearing common Army aphorisms such as ‘I know my soldiers, and I will always place their needs above my own,’ and ‘I will always place the mission first.’”
Despite the findings that many adolescent children are able to cope well, the authors acknowledged that there are still “many unknowns” concerning the effects of deployments. “We cannot predict how these children will negotiate the often difficult transition to adulthood,” the study stated. “Nor do we know how an adolescence spent in the turbulence of a deployed Army will affect these young people when they eventually become parents.” Wong said that they made no recommendations to the Army regarding their findings, but briefed the study findings to the Army leadership. “We are letting them mull it over.”