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7: BELONGING

We are just like most teens in a lot of ways.

What’s “normal”? Whatever it is, it’s something teens strive for. And even though they may use military acronyms in their speech or have lived in five states and two foreign countries before their 16th birthday, they are teens just like all the rest. They want to fit in, make friends, and have fun.

“Sometimes I feel like I want to quit and just be normal for a bit.”

One way to deal with the challenges of military life is to help them see what they have in common with other teens. It gets their minds off themselves for a while, and they may even find coping strategies from other teen groups. Also, maintaining a sense of normalcy is key to getting through deployments. Here are suggestions that can bring military teens and other teens together:

  • Don’t treat military teens differently. Changing your behavior toward them may signal pity and insincerity and no one likes that. In one military teen’s words, “Don’t cozy up to me. That’s creepy.”
  • Older siblings of large families, single parent homes, or families in rural areas often have extra responsibilities. They could swap stories with military teens about how they juggle it all.
  • Teach all teens how to deal with transition, change or loss. Whether it’s a break up or a big move, change is a part of life that everyone experiences.
  • Teens of deceased or disabled parents can share experiences with military teens whose parents are injured or suffering from traumatic memories.
  • Expand their horizons. Do an exercise that emphasizes what all teens have in common. Explore teens’ lives in other cultures.
  • Organize a traveler’s club. Military teens will make new friends and find commonality with other non-military families who share a diverse traveling experience.

Resources:

  • Learn how to start your own peer support program for transitioning students and view a list of S2S programs in your area at www.militarychild.org/child-student/student-2-student.
  • Take a course from the Military Child Initiative for people interacting with military youth at www.jhsph.edu/mci/training_course.
  • Visit a teen social and educational site from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America at www.myclubmylife.com.
  • Teen L.I.N.K.S. (Lifestyle, Insights, Networking, Knowledge and Skills) – Modeled after a Marine program for Marine spouses, this program has been tailored for military teens. Contact your local Marine base for information on how you can connect a Marine teen with this support group.
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America Military Support – with more than 350 military youth centers around the world, this is a place where military teens can feel at home, no matter where that is. Visit www.bgca.org/partners/military for more information.