Resilience in Military Children

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It's been over a decade since the tragic events of 9/11. Among those who continue to experience the effects of 9/11 are service members and their families. Recently, a teenager named Sophie Roth-Douquet reminded us in a USA Today opinion article that more than two million military kids have sent parents off to war in the past 12 years; while major deployments are coming to an end, the effects remain with them. For instance, 900,000 of these military children have seen a parent deployed multiple times, and 10,200 have experienced the death of an immediate family member. These children should also be remembered for their sacrifice.

While military families might face hardships such as frequent moves, deployments, posttraumatic stress disorder, or the loss of a parent, most children exhibit extraordinary resilience. In the newly published issue of the Future of Children, Military Children and Families, authors M. Ann Easterbrooks, Kenneth Ginsburg and Richard M. Lerner observe that most military children turn out just fine. Although research on the topic is surprisingly limited, military life can offer unique opportunities for children. For example, children whose parents are deployed may build their self-confidence by taking on new responsibilities in the family, and moving provides opportunities for adventure and personal growth.

One thing is certain, though: military children are children first. And "they must establish positive friendships and peer relationships, make their way through school, build on their talents, develop their own 'moral compass' and participate in their families and communities." When they encounter adversity, they need social support from adults such as parents, committed mentors, and teachers or coaches. While there is much that needs to be done in research and program development to understand and increase resilience among military youth, first and foremost, we should reach out to the military families around us. We owe them an incalculable debt. For more information on resilience among military youth, see the Future of Children issue on Military Children and Families.

2 Comments

I was able to attend the panel discussion at Brookings on Monday 9/30, and appreciated the participants' views on the issue and the new volume. What is hard to understand, however, is why the decision was made in the editing of this volume to exclude children of veterans separated from service from the definition of military families. (p. 14) The data in the volume makes clear that the majority of children affected by their parents' deployment since 9/11 are from such families, but for the most part the volume overlooks the great needs among these children of veterans separated from service. Their access to services is far less than those of children of parents on active duty, they are invisible to most state and local agencies, and the task of networking between DoD and DVA and those many agencies was not given much emphasis. The VA has no credible number of such children, even though DoD knows the number of dependents on separation. I hope that further discussion of this issue gives these children at least proportionate emphasis. With $350 billion in federal outlays for children in 2012, the focus should be upon getting children of veterans timely access to their fair share of these existing resources, rather than inventing new pilot projects that are unlikely to achieve scale.

Finally, as a graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School (MPA 1965) and a Vietnam veteran (US Army 1967-68) I appreciate this collaboration between the University and Brookings and hope this volume will provide a foundation for additional work in this important area.

I greatly appreciated the perspective that military-connected children are America's children. Their support should come from all agencies collaboratively rather than relying on the Department of Defense and Department of Education.

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