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More Violence in Kids with Deployed Parents

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In light of a new study that shows children with deployed parents are twice as likely to engage in violent or destructive behavior, we parents have some work to do.

We all know how much stress deployment can put on a young person.  There is an emotional toll inflicted by the absence of one of their parents. Often, their other parent is working twice as hard trying to make up for it, and the household’s encompassing reaction to the absence can leave a lasting impression on a young mind. In a country where violent behaviors – if not actual crime statistics – are still rising in our schools, the children of military families are especially vulnerable as both victims and perpetrators.

How do you tell a kid whose mom or dad is in Afghanistan to take it easy? Children – especially once they’re old enough to understand a little about deployment and the potential danger that their parent is in – are going to have very conflicted feelings. And this new study has found that the problem isn’t confined to just young men. It turns out the daughters of military families are three times as likely to be be violent as other girls.

So what can we do? The causes of violence are often difficult to trace in children, but in this case, we know exactly where the root lies. The trouble is, we’re helpless to stop soldiers from deploying. The children are very much missing a sense that their family is whole – which also explains why kids with deployed parents join gangs at an alarming rate.

Military families – and children in particular – need that sense of community. They need to feel like they belong to the same cause that Mom or Dad belongs to, and is out there fighting for. Parents need to let their kids know that all of them are sacrificing – and not for an abstract concept, but for the tangible peace and security of their own family.

With a parent deployed, it’s doubly crucial to get kids out with other children of deployed service members so that they can see they’re not alone. Attend social events and make sure that the kids feel like they’re part of the same community as their missing parent. Be sure and listen to your kids – they have a lot of steam to blow off, a lot of questions, and they don’t need to be judged harshly, especially at the beginning of a mobilization. They need to be heard.

Bases often have many resources already in place that can help. The Family Readiness Office, MilitaryOneSource and many others can point you in the right direction for your location and branch of service.

Preventing violence in military kids isn’t terribly different from preventing violence in all kids – it takes engaged parenting, welcoming a child into a community, forgiveness, a willingness to confront the behavior and the faith and patience to make a slow correction of the behavior. There are many other aspects to it, as well. But because of military kids’ increasingly violent problems, it’s incumbent on service members and spouses to confront this problem head-on.