Military teens miss their military parents for several reasons. First, deployments take parents away for months at a time. Temporary duty, training, or necessary separations, such as a family staying behind so children can finish the school year, also bring absences. Birthdays, holidays, and family vacations often occur without the service member parent present.
“I’m turning into a teenager and he’s not here to guide me on my way to growing up.”
Then, there is another kind of missing called “ambiguous loss.” Returning from a combat deployment, the parent may be a different person. Those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or physical injury may have striking differences from when they last saw their teen. Military teens miss the parent they had before the deployment, but it’s not something they can really explain or change. You can’t bring the parent back, but you can use these strategies to strengthen the teen/parent bond:
Have teens write to their deployed parents about their daily lives—what they’re doing in school, sports, clubs, or house of worship.
Use social networking platforms to reach teens in the places where they already hang out.
Tell them it’s okay to ask for help.
Work with the school to establish times for phone calls if the time zone difference is interfering with the teen’s opportunity to talk to their deployed parent.
Don’t let teens miss out on special activities or rites of passages. While a parent can’t be replaced, the event can still be treasured. Ask an uncle to attend a father/daughter dance or arrange to videotape special events like graduation ceremonies.
Include the deployed parent’s email address on your PTA, sports booster, or youth group parent list serve so they can receive your newsletter and other information about the activities that mean a lot to their teen.
Understand that teens facing a parent’s deployment or celebrating their return may need to find a new balance between family time and their normal routine. Follow the family’s lead. Also keep in mind that the teen may need time with peers as the family adjusts to the service member’s return.
“Finding My Way: A Teen’s Guide to Living with a Parent Who Has Experienced Trauma” by Michelle D. Sherman, Ph.D. and DeAnne M. Sherman.
Battlemind - a multimedia resource designed by the Army to prepare service members and families for deployments and reunions. Check out the videos, files and worksheets created for teens at www.battlemind.army.mil.
Psych First Aid for Military Families is a PowerPoint presentation geared at providing helpful techniques for dealing with families in crisis. Visit www.usmc-mccs.org/cosc/conference/sessions.cfm and find the presentation in Tuesday’s agenda.