11-17-2010 (Dayton, OH) -
Scott Mumma reads his son a story every night before bedtime, and in the morning his wife Marah and her son blow him a kiss before they leave the house. The Mummas sound like a typical family, except Scott’s bedtime story is played from a video recorded months ago and Marah and her son blow kisses to a photo taped to their refrigerator. Many families like the Mummas are dealing with one of the newest realities of war for US forces: deployment.
For nine years and counting the United States has been at war sending thousands of mothers and fathers overseas, causing a generation of children to grow up with deployed parents. Today studies are being conducted to determine the effects of deployment on children of military servicemen and women.
War is different than a business trip.
In today’s society it is common for parents to travel for work; however, “for military children, deployment is more than just a period of absence. The parent is going where regular communication with them may be more difficult and to an area the media remind them regularly is one where people get injured or die,” explains Gregory Toussaint, MD, director of inpatient pediatrics at The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton and previously a three-time deployed pediatrician with the United States Air Force.
Apart from prolonged absences of military parents, advances in technology have changed the way wars are broadcast and conducted, and children can see firsthand the potential danger their mothers and fathers face.
“Changes in equipment and forward deployed medical care have also allowed many injured soldiers to survive who in previous wars would have died. This has created a dramatic increase in the number of children with a parent disabled as the result of combat.” Dr. Toussaint explains this can create even more complex and stressful conditions for children at home.
Teenagers, young children struggle with adjustment.
Research shows adolescents ages 11 to 17 years, with one or more parent deployed, have more stress and behavioral conditions than children with neither parent deployed, and females have more difficulty adjusting to life after deployment. According to Dr. Toussaint, researchers suggested “this might be explained by changes related to roles they may occupy in the household when the military parent is away or connecting emotionally with an absent parent.”
Not only teenagers have trouble adjusting to the periodic absence of a military parent. A recently published study of children with deployed parents showed visits for mental health or behavioral problem issues in children of all ages increased significantly during deployment periods.
Like any other medical condition, it is important to recognize the serious psychological effects of deployment on young children and adolescents and the many proactive efforts to support children and their families. There are online organizations such as Military OneSource, a web-based clearinghouse for information, and videos sponsored by Sesame Street that cover a wide range of topics from preparing to deploy to how to cope when a deployed parent dies.
Children of military families are resilient, but even for the strongest families, resiliency is waning as parents are called to deploy again and again. However, with awareness and understanding about the effects of deployment on these families help is available to support both these children and their military parents.
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