Most of us only see war on the news and can separate it from our daily lives. For military youth, news is real life. Military teens understand the realities of war and worry if the deployment will be extended or if their parent will be different when returning. Here are ways to ease the worry during this time:
“Be safe a little bit longer.”
Be honest. Teens know the consequences of war, but they also grasp facts younger children may not: most people return uninjured, the concept of just how long a year is, and practical coping strategies.
Connect with the parent at home to get a sense of what the teen is going through and find out key deployment dates. Too much responsibility at home can also affect the student at school. It’s important to have that relationship with the family established in the case of an injury, death, or post-traumatic stress. You can offer resources for them to use at home.
Understand the emotional cycles of deployment—Anticipation of Departure, Detachment and Withdraw, Emotional Disorganization, Recovery and Stabilization, Anticipation of Return, Return Adjustment and Re-negotiation, Reintegration and Stabilization—and how each phase affect teens.
Be aware of even casual discussions about war. Military youth take perspectives on conflict more to heart.
Listen. Give the youth a safe and welcoming place to talk about the deployment. Many times a teen won’t share their feelings at home for fear it will cause more stress for the non-deployed parent. Give them a chance to get something off their chest.
Create support resources outside their homes. Sports, clubs, and other activities that keep youth active and connected with other people-especially kids who know what a deployment is like—are key stress reducers.
Let the school counselor know if a teen’s parent is deployed.
Send care packages from your group to the youth’s deployed parent.
Be accommodating with class work due dates. There may be special circumstances. However, keeping things routine is often best.
Work with your school system to establish a policy that accommodates families dealing with good-byes and reunions, as well as leave.
Be neutral in your language. Avoid terms like “parents” which assume every teen has two parents at home. Create an environment where single parents and grandparents feel welcome. Words like “caregiver” or “guardian” are useful.
Children, Youth and Families Education and Research Network – researched-based information for parents, teachers and family support leaders working with children of service members at www.cyfernet.org/hottopic/warres.html.