When servicemen and women ship off to a war zone, their children often have trouble coping. According to new research, adolescents with a parent deployed overseas can be far more prone to violence than their peers. Here, a brief guide to the study:
What did the study find?
Eighth-grade boys with a parent deployed overseas were 1.77 times more likely to get in a fight and 2.14 times more likely to join a gang, according to a study of 10,000 Washington public schools students. Eighth-grade girls were twice as likely to carry a weapon. In the 10th and 12th grades, boys and girls were more than twice as likely to get into fights, be gang members, or carry weapons. "This study raises serious concerns about an under-recognized consequence of war," says Sarah Reed, the study's lead researcher. "How children cope with their parents' deployment is a real issue that countless families are confronted with every day."
Why is this is happening?
The researchers say that when a parent is away, kids have fewer opportunities to learn and witness "positive health behaviors." Gregory Leskin, the director of military family program at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and a UCLA psychologist, isn't surprised by the findings. Without a parent around, adolescents are likely to turn to their peers to help them cope and perhaps find a negative influence as a result, he says.
What is being done about this problem?
Researchers say we need more school and community-based programs that offer support to military families. Experts say these findings, while preliminary, are "something of a wake-up call" for mental-health professionals, although it will take more research to figure out the extent of the problem, and how to deal with it. It's a huge task, as 2 million children had at least one parent serving in the military in 2010.