The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that 43 percent of active duty service members have children, and most of those children will face the challenges that come with having a deployed parent. While younger children are sometimes less aware of the dangers involved with deployment, adolescents in military families are in-tune with all that is at stake. Fortunately, by focusing on mental and physical health, educational goals and extra-curricular activities, military children can thrive in adolescence and beyond. If you are a child of a deployed service member, here are six survival tips that can help you get through a tough deployment.
Get Assistance for Educational Goals
While college may not be the first thing on your mind during your parent’s deployment, pursuing your educational goals is a healthy and productive way to cope with a stressful situation. Get college funding as a military dependent by taking advantage of one of the many scholarship and grant opportunities available to children of service members. As you search for your ideal program of study, look at military-friendly colleges that offer tuition discounts to military dependents and support programs such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill. If your military parent has not used all of his or her GI Bill benefits, you may apply through the VA to have those benefits transferred to you. As a military dependent, you possess many of the qualities college admission boards are looking for, including maturity, adaptability and independence. As a result, there are a number of scholarship opportunities available to military dependents through government organizations, private entities and Veterans Service Organizations. Apply for as many of these scholarships as you can, and get the tuition assistance you deserve to succeed in college and beyond.
Connect with Other Military Children
Until recently, support groups and social networking sites have been mostly geared toward military spouses and returning veterans. This has changed in recent years, as military families are increasingly aware of the impact deployment has on children and teens, including increased risk of depression, anxiety, and isolation. This has led to the creation of many social media sites that are geared toward helping military children to support each other through difficult deployments. According to the Department of Defense (DOD), online resources such as MilitaryKidsConnect.com provide children with a safe environment for coping with the struggles of deployment. These sites offer a platform for cultivating friendships with children who are going through similar struggles. If you are more comfortable with face-to-face interaction, organizations such as the YMCA provide activities that are designed to meet the specific needs of military families. These programs supply an opportunity to connect with other military children through sports and other recreational activities.
Seek Assistance from a Mental Health Professional
The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have prompted researchers to study the mental health consequences deployment has on military children. The results of these studies overwhelmingly suggest a strong correlation between a parent’s deployment and the development of cognitive disabilities. According to CBS News, a recent study revealed that one-fourth of children of active-duty service members suffer from symptoms of depression, and 50 percent experience sleep disturbances. These statistics are certainly cause for concern; however, by proactively seeking medical attention from a mental health provider, children of service members may prevent and/or treat these conditions. Military dependents may obtain up to eight mental health sessions through their military installation’s Family Service Centers before ever obtaining a referral. Or, if your family is receiving health insurance through TRICARE, you may receive direct mental health assistance through this network without needing a referral from a private provider.
Find a Hobby or Meaningful Part-Time Job
Research shows that engaging in activities that bring meaning to one’s life is an essential part of coping with difficult circumstances. Playing sports or participating in other physical activities will cause the body to release endorphins, which can help reduce the symptoms of depression. This is also a great time to focus on your future goals and to connect with other individuals who share similar interests. Whether you find a part-time job or join a book club, social interaction and physical activity are healthy and productive ways to deal with a difficult deployment.
Develop a Regular Routine
Living through a parent’s deployment is chaotic, and any way to obtain even a small amount of stability and normalcy is a welcome change. Implementing a schedule is one way to take control of your life in the midst of a situation that is largely beyond your control. Taking control where you can, even through small things such as sticking to an exercise or homework schedule, can make a huge difference in how you experience life during this difficult time.
Without a doubt, struggling through the deployment of a parent is a trying time, and it takes a lot of work to remain healthy through the process. By utilizing these five tips, military children can be better able to thrive through childhood, adolescence, and well into adulthood.
Image by USAG-Humphreys from Flickr Creative Commons
About the Author: Barb Watson is a child psychologist who specializes in treating children with PTSD. She is a contributing writer for various psychology and military-related publications.