Kids of deployed at risk for violence

U. WASHINGTON (US) — Teens with at least one parent in the military are at elevated risk of engaging in fighting at school, carrying a weapon, and joining a gang, according to a new study that examined deployment’s effects on U.S. families.

The strain is particularly difficult on boys and girls with parents on active duty, according to the study that is based on data from the 2008 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey of more than 10,000 adolescents in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades of public schools.

Military deployment is associated with 1.77 higher odds of physical fighting and 2.14 higher odds of gang membership among adolescent boys in 8th grade. Girls in 8th grade with at least one parent in the military were at twice the risk of carrying a weapon.  Findings were presented at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“This study raises serious concerns about an under-recognized consequence of war,” says Sarah Reed, who has a master’s degree in public health from the University of Washington and now works at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass.

“How children cope with their parent’s deployment is a real issue that countless families are confronted with every day.  There is a unique opportunity here to intervene and offer these children—who are acutely vulnerable to negative influences—the support they need so they don’t turn to violence as a way to help cope.”

According to the study, older youth have a higher likelihood of engaging in risky behavior.  In 10th and 12th grade, girls with a deployed parent had higher odds of reporting school-based weapon carrying (2.2) and physical fighting (2.6) and being a member of a gang (2.84).  Boys with a deployed parent were at increased risk of school-based weapon carrying (2.87) and physical fighting (2.48), and gang membership (2.08).

The research is a follow-up to a study that Reed conducted earlier this year that analyzed mental health problems of children with military parents.

Some youth miss out on the opportunity to learn positive health behaviors while a parent is serving. Researchers cite deployment cycle stress, long and multiple deployments, challenges in accessing support services and emotional distress of the non-deployed parent as possible pathways to missed opportunities.

Reed emphasizes the urgent need for greater support of innovative school- and community-based initiatives that improve the health and safety of youth in military families. In 2010, almost two million United States children had at least one parent serving in the military.

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