A study on military children that was published late summer in the JAMA Pediatrics of public-school children in California raised a few alarms. The study found that military kids were more prone to risky behaviors when compared to their civilian peers.
In response to the media coverage of the study, several military support organizations took issue with the negative portrayal of military children. It was in this conversation that I stumbled on ScoutComms account executive (and military brat herself) Margaret Clevenger’s piece on “We’re Having The Wrong Conversation About Military Brats.” Clevenger points out in her essay that military life engenders many positive qualities in the children of those families. Adaptability, maturity, and resilience.
They are also the qualities that have served my three children well through years of Dad’s deployments, his injury and multiple surgeries and the years of transition that followed when he could no longer continue his service.
A month ago, we dropped our oldest Navy brat daughter off at college. Among the glorious mess of boxes and general confusion, a sort of calm in the storm presided. Our daughter was a machine setting up her room and making it her own. Any call of “Oh, we should have brought…” was met with “We have one!” Her roommate’s Mom shook her head in amazementand commented about how organized and prepared she was. PCS skills for the win!
Conversations we have with her are full of excitement and an eagerness and joy at taking on this latest chapter in her life. She talks about the people she has met as if she has known them all of her life. On multiple occasions, she has referred to her college as “home.”
I firmly believe that she is adjusting as well as she is because of our time as a military family. The adaptability, maturity, and resilience, sprinkled with a little bit of wanderlust are serving her well. She isn’t caught up in the change, but the possibilities.
But, she is still young and on her own for the first time. So there are calls and texts. Sometimes, while she is walking to class and just wants someone to talk to. Sometimes, she needs a little reassurance she is on the right track navigating her new life. Sometimes, she just wants to hear Mom’s voice.
The issue isn’t that she has some anxiety or fear, or even that she occasionally misses Mom and Dad, her siblings or the cats. She will experience stress and possible missteps and a failure or two. That’s to be expected. Of note is that she knows what to do when she does feel and experience those things. She has learned to cope, and is secure in the knowledge that someone has her back. These skills she learned as a military child. You might say it is trial by fire.
The challenges that military families and their children face are not insignificant, and can result in issues such as anxiety and behavior problems. This is true. Kids are kids, and how they react to circumstances out of their control is influenced by their individual gifts and experience. In fact, quite a bit of what occurs in a military child’s life is out of their control. Moves and deployments are going to happen. Goodbyes and separations from loved ones hurt. Military kids can experience a lot of those. But for every child that struggles with the stress of these factors, still others use the obstacles as fuel for growth and achievement.
Studies like the one stated above are important. They pinpoint issues that may need further study. But as Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University stated in the Wall Street Journal article on the study, “The fact that military and nonmilitary kids are different is certainly meaningful,” she said. “But we don’t know what it might be about military experience that’s producing these differences.”
Perhaps what helps military children succeed is simple: strong, secure and stable families and a community that cares. To a one, every successful military child that I know has that going for them. Somewhere out there is the answer, and the answer may be found in the stories of the military children that are doing extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances.
Every year, Operation Homefront tries to bring awareness to the other side of the conversation through the Military Child of the Year Award®. The qualities Clevenger speaks of are the ones we’ve come to know well as we enter the eighth year of this program designed to celebrate military kids and their incredible achievements and contributions to their communities.
Help them have the right conversation about military kids. Nominations for Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year Award® open October 15, 2015. You can learn more about the program at www.militarychildoftheyear.org
Other resources to help military children achieve: