By Jenny Rea, Ph.D.,
April is the Month of the Military Child and it is a time to celebrate military kids and highlight the ways in which they are resilient through various changes and transitions. This month can serve as a reminder to always recognize the role that military kids have in the military family.
In 2021, the National Military Family Association (NMFA) teamed up with BLOOM – Empowering the Military Teen to better understand the experiences of America’s military teens. To measure military teens’ well-being, they created their first-ever Military Teen Experience Survey. The survey results provide a snapshot of the lives of 2,000 military-connected kids, ages 13-19. They shared information on deployments, moves, and transferring schools.
The teens shared “how hard it was to feel connected after a move, how they’d lost credits in school, struggled to get into the right classes, and were unable to enroll in the extracurriculars they love.” Based on their findings, NMFA and BLOOM shared: “We needed to be better about paying attention to our teen’s mental health.”
Military Teens Need Well-Being Support
Most military teens are doing well with military moves, school transitions, deployments, and adolescence. However, many still struggle with mental well-being. The survey found only 9% of military teens reported high mental well-being, while 28% scored low on mental well-being.
Military teens need help. The more positive news is that many of them are getting it, and the report showed that 25% of teens reported seeking care for a mental or behavioral health concern.
But for many others, the help they needed seemed out of reach. About 10% who needed care did not ask their parents for help. Teens often feel uncomfortable talking with a parent or caregiver about their mental health. They often worry about how parents will respond (Becker et al., 2014).
Building safety and trust in parent-adolescent relationships helps teens to share their needs with the adults in their lives and receive the mental or behavioral health care they need.
Five percent of teens also said that their ’parents or guardians could not find a mental or behavioral healthcare provider. Military families consistently report difficulties finding care due to a lack of providers, high out-of-pocket costs, and time constraints (Becker et al., 2014). Finally, 4% of teens reported that their parents or guardians were unwilling to connect them with the care they needed.
What Can You Do to Help Our Military Teen Community?
Those who serve military families and teens contribute to the readiness of our military in many ways. After all, service members cannot focus 100% on their mission if they are worried about their children or families. With empathy, knowledge, and effort, you can significantly impact the military teens in your life.
Welcome military families when they join your community. Help them to build connections with others whenever possible – their mental health depends on it. Consider using The Field Guide to the Military Teen by BLOOM as military teens navigate various transitions. Do not hesitate to let the military families you serve know that you are there for them and that they are not alone.
The blog posts and podcast episodes listed below can support the work you’re doing with youth and teens.
- Improve your Youth and Family Programs with Experiential Learning – OneOp by Jessica Pierson Russo
- Risk and Resilient Factors of Military-Connected Youth – OneOp by Jenny Rea
- Child & Youth Programs Embed 7 C’s of Resiliency by Laura Groenweb & Mel Johnson
- Moving from Resilience to Thriving: Supporting Military-Connected Youth and Families by Karen Beranek, adapted by Karen Shirer
- Engaging military-connected youth: A simple person-centered practice – OneOp by Darcy Cole; adapted by Karen Shirer
- The Highly Mobile, but Very Resilient: Identifying and Addressing School-and Transition-Related Needs Of Military Youth by Jenny Rea
April is the Month of the Military Child
To celebrate military kids during the Month of the Military Child, the National Military Family Association is celebrating military kids through their 2023 Time to Celebrate Military Kids Sweepstakes. Feel free to share with the military families you serve for their chance to enter the sweepstakes.
Military OneSource offers its annual Month of the Military Child Toolkit – providing programs and support to help military children, youth, teens, and their parents thrive.
OneOp invites you to participate in our upcoming webinar series Military Youth: Protecting and Promoting Resilience and Well-Being. Webinars include:
- May 23 – Preparing Adults to be the People Military-Connected Youth Deserve in Their Lives
- May 31 – Applying a Positive Youth Development Framework to Increase Resiliency and Thrive.
- July 26 – Promoting Youth Mental Well-being by Building Social Emotional Learning Skills
- August 10 – What Can Families (and Other Adults) Do to Maximize Youth Well-Being
- Becker, S. J., Swenson, R. R., Esposito-Smythers, C., Cataldo, A. M., & Spirito, A. (2014). Barriers to seeking mental health services among adolescents in military families. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(6), 504. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25574070/
- The-Military-Teen-Experience-Survey-2022-Findings-and-Insights.pdf (militaryfamily.org)
Jenny Rea, Ph.D., is a military spouse and mom of four kiddos under six years. Jenny consults with OneOp and is an Assistant Professor of Practice in the Department of Human Services and Director of the Certificate in Military Families at the University of Arizona.
Photo Source: Canva