Over two million children in the United States have been directly affected by a parent’s deployment. In the past few years, deployments for U.S. troops has increased in both frequency and in length, resulting in many military children experiencing the absence of one or both parents. With 42% of active duty military members having children, these kids must face the challenges of living with only one parents, or at times, neither. They must also learn to live with a parent(s) that has been changed by war.
As the length and frequency of deployment increases, the child of the deployed troop will experience greater psychological deficits than if the deployment was shorter. As the frequency of deployments increases, so do the long term effects on the child. Studies find that children in middle and high school have a much harder time with parental reintegration and deployment than younger children. This same study shows that girls in general have a harder time with deployments than boys do.
According to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ , military children with deployed parents have shown problems with sleeping, declining grades, anxiety, and higher levels of stress. Around 20% of military spouses have claimed that their children exhibit worse behavior than when their spouse was home, and another 21% said that their children experience higher levels of anxiety in the absence of a parent. These are the short term effects of deployment on children, and usually resolve themselves within four to six weeks of the return of the deployed family member.
Long term effects of deployment on children include emotional conduct and peer problems. Many parents notice that their children become less sociable or less open to meeting new people. Long term effects are mostly seen in younger children. One heart-shattering problem we see in young children after a long deployment is not being able to recognize their parents once they return home. Reintegration for young children is especially difficult because of their shorter memories and attention spans.
As for high schoolers, the effects of deployment can vary greatly. Some teenagers step up and attempt to fill in the role of the deployed family member, while others succumb to their feelings of loss. The best way for teens to deal with their emotions depends on the teen and what they are feeling. Short term effects on teens include mood swings and a brief drop in the quality of their schoolwork as they get over the initial sadness of having a loved one deploy. Long term effects range from severe trust issues, attachment issues, to general depression.
If a parent is deployed multiple times in a child’s life, they may develop a much stronger relationship with the one that doesn’t deploy. Reintegration for teens is not as hard as it is for younger children, but many find that they are less open to their parent that has just come home. For some teenagers, this passes. For some teens, however, they will always have a stronger connection with the parent that has always been there. The best thing to tell your teen that is going through this is that being deployed was not something they did to hurt the teen, but to defend our country.
Deployment’s effects on children can be minimal or extremely severe, and what emotions or hardships a child endures because of a deployment is nobody’s fault. The best thing to do for anyone with children and a deployed spouse or a friend with a deployed parent, is to offer your help and support for when they need it. There is no doubt that someone feels confusing emotions when someone they care about leaves, and it is how those feelings are dealt with and interpreted that affect behavior and mood.