There's no denying it: war is really, really hard. It's hard on the service members. It's hard on the spouses. And it's really hard on the kids. As much as we'd like to think that we universally arm our kids with great coping skills, maybe we really don't. Maybe it's just not enough for some.
According to a study out of California released August 17, military adolescents were more likely than their civilian peers to use drugs, abuse alcohol, carry a gun to school and participate in physical violence. They were 50 percent more likely to report substance abuse.
"These results suggest that a sizable subset of military-connected students are struggling to cope with the ramifications of two long wars,” lead author Kathrin Sullivan said in a news release.
You can read all about the study and the exact statistics in this news story. For now let's just address one thing:
Some of our kids are having a really hard time. They are not dealing with the stress as well as we would like.
Which makes sense. Because I'm not dealing with it as well as I would like, either. I want to think that I soldier through without a blip, that I have all the tools I need and I use them seamlessly. But I don't.
I'm the mom to two incredible little boys. My six-year-old just started first grade. My three-year-old will start preschool soon (woohoo!). They are funny, happy, honest, exhausting, scrawny, tough and - yes - resilient little boys. The traumas of a happy childhood such as bumps, scrapes, bug bites, that one time they both pushed each other in the creek and two decapitated Batman toys can't keep them down. But like any kids, they do notice when their daddy isn't home. They do notice when their mom is having a meltdown under the stress of yet another crazy Army thing.
I want to think that stuff doesn't impact them. I want to think we've giving them the tools to get through military life without having an adolescent brand of meltdown.
But what if we're not?
There are some problems with this study that give us hope that maybe, just maybe, its findings are an anomaly, like our friend Ingrid Herrera-Yee pointed out in an interview for this article. The sample size is small, the kids come from only one state and they were all in civilian schools (verses some of the sample coming for Defense Department schools).
Herrara-Yee told that reporter that the more support a child gets, the less likely she is to turn to poor coping skills like substance abuse and violence.
There are very few studies that take a hard look at how military kids handle stress. We know there's a suicide problem within military families not tracked by the DoD.
We know this life is hard. But are we willing to acknowledge that maybe what we are doing just isn't enough? Are our leaders within the Defense Department willing to see -- I mean really see -- our military families and give us the resources to make things better? And what are those resources, anyway? Is there even a way to help the heart of a 13-year-old whose dad has deployed off and on her entire life?
I wish I knew.
Photo courtesy U.S. Army.