Risky behavior is not unusual with tweens and teens. But the added stress of military life can create unique situations that lead kids into destructive activities like drugs and drinking.
Washington state’s Healthy Youth Survey (2008) indicated that children in grades 8, 10 and 12 with parents in the military were more likely to have smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol
or used marijuana in the previous 30 days than their civilian counterparts.
Michele Borba, internationally recognized parenting educator and author of “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions,” has started working on installations overseas to help deal with the issues facing military kids that may cause them to turn to risky behavior.
With Borba’s help, we identified five unique risk areas for our military kids, and we’ve developed tips for parents to help them keep their children safe:
Children can mirror a parent’s behaviors, especially those kids who are typically more sensitive. If you or your spouse are experiencing depression or are dealing with PTS
(post-traumatic stress) or any level of combat stress, be aware that your older children may also adopt these issues as their own. In response to those difficult feelings, older children can sometimes turn to destructive behaviors like cutting, alcohol, or may even experience
Prescription Drug Access:
A growing problem within the civilian youth community, this issue is compounded by access to drugs in a military household due to injuries or emotional trauma treatment. Just like adults, teens can turn to selfmedicating to deal with stress.
Alcohol and Cigarettes:
Overseas, military kids will legally be able to consume alcohol at a younger age. They will also be exposed to a less rigorous cultural attitude toward drinking. And a trip to the Exchange-with its racks of cigarettes-plus contact with a smoking and dipping culture
among service members puts military teens on a collision course with tobacco use.
Too Much Bad News:
According to Borba, a steady media diet of worrisome statistics about service member suicide, coverage about the widespread impact of PTS, and frequent updates about deployment casualties can be overwhelming for some military kids. Knowledge certainly is power. But it’s important to remember that media coverage can reach your child 24 hours a day through cell phones, the Internet and news channels-all of which can lead to higher levels of concern about a service member parent.
Older children can feel as if they need to be strong and hold it together for younger kids. Or they may seek to step up by becoming a confidante for a parent’s troubles. Even kids
who want added responsibilities can eventually become weighed
down by them. Military kids may seek a release from these increased responsibilities by turning to destructive behaviors.
HAVE A MONITORING PLAN
Tying a particular issue (for example, a parent’s deployment) to changes (not sleeping) to an outcome (drinking) may not be easy. But you’ll want to know when to get help for your child regardless of the trigger. Be sure you:
• Know your child’s regular stress signs before a deployment/life event.
That way you’ll recognize regular behavior and also know what is not normal.
• Listen to their concerns. Your day can be busy, especially when you’re
parenting on your own during deployment. Make time to talk with your
child so that, if they are willing, they can share what’s on their mind.
• Obey your gut instinct. No one knows your kids better than you, says Borba. If
something seems wrong, don’t delay in getting help to find out what is going on.
• Monitor medicines. Keep tabs on your child’s physical environment, including
the contents of your medicine cabinet, so you’ll know if there is a problem.
• Tie in teachers and friends’ parents. Sometimes your child may not
feel comfortable sharing how they feel with their own parent, even if your
relationship is good. They may seek other adults as sounding boards.
Talk to other trusted adults in their life to let them know your concerns so
everyone can be vigilant about helping your child through a hard time.
• Identify support resources for your child. School, military, and
community-based programs are in place to support. Contacting school
counselors, family physicians or Military One Source (800-342-9647)
ALL IN THE TIMING
Work to ensure your child is sleeping and eating well. Turn off cell phones at night and
keep televisions out of your teen’s room. Make healthy meals and eat them together.
Dinner time is a good time to share at least five minutes of good news with your child.
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