Military life may put teens at risk for fights at school

"We need to listen more to these students and better understand their experiences in school," says Tamika D. Gilreath. "It's never right for anyone to feel ostracized, to be picked on. Schools need practices to help integrate students who are transitioning in and out." (Credit: iStockphoto)

Transitioning into new schools and coping with a parent’s military deployment can increase the risks that teens will be victimized by other students and bring weapons to school.

Military-connected students in middle and high school were more likely than nonmilitary students to be physically victimized, which included being pushed or shoved, being in a fight, and having property stolen, a new study shows. These students were also more likely to have rumors spread about them and to be the subject of sexual jokes and gestures.

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Published in the journal Preventive Medicine, the study is based on the results of the California Health Kids Survey, which is conducted annually by the California Department of Education to monitor youth risk, behavior, and resilience.

The survey offers an optional military module, which allows for comparisons between military and nonmilitary students. This analysis focuses on a sample of 14,512 students in grades 7, 9, and 11 who attend schools in six military-connected school districts in Southern California.

While other recent research has shown links between a family member’s deployment and negative outcomes for military-connected adolescents, this study adds to the research by showing that being new in school is also associated with problems for the students.

“Such relocations cause youth to lose important social supports and networks,” says Tamika D. Gilreath, assistant professor of social work at the University of Southern California and the study’s lead author. “Additionally for military-connected youth, these moves may also coincide with deployment cycles whereby they lose the support of one of their parents.”

While only a small percentage of students reported carrying either a gun or a knife to school, the percentage of students with a parent in the military who reported bringing a gun to school was double that of nonmilitary students—8.3 percent compared to 3.6 percent.

Additionally those reporting no family member deployments had significantly lower rates of bringing a gun to school than those who reported one, or two or more deployments —2.8 percent compared to 5.6 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.

“It is possible that having a military-connected family member allows youth access to weapons in the home,” Gilreath says. “Additionally, multiple deployments may contribute to increased weapon carrying if a parent is deployed and parental monitoring declines in the absence of the other parent.”

More research is needed on the combination of military-connected students being more victimized than nonmilitary students and the finding that they are also carrying weapons more often, says co-author Rami Benbenishty from Bar Ilan University in Israel.

“We do not have indications that these students are involved more in using weapons in schools. This may hint that carrying weapons may have a different meaning for military-connected students. We need to listen more to these students and better understand their experiences in school.”

The study, shows that schools need to increase the support they provide to new students, especially those from military families, Gilreath says.

“It’s never right for anyone to feel ostracized, to be picked on. Schools need practices to help integrate students who are transitioning in and out.”

Source: USC