By Tim McGough, Commander, Navy Installations Command
April is the Month of the Military Child. What can you say about a military child or “military brat” or one of the other titles that society has given children who grow up in the military? It can be argued that they too serve. They feel the effects of deployments, separations and moving every two to three years, starting over with little or no say in the matter.
They are “forced” to pick up, pack up and moved from one side of the country to the other. Sometimes they are even moved to another country.
For some of us who serve or served in the military we grew up in one town, attended one grade, middle and high school and made lifelong friends. Not true for most military children. Every two or three years they have to leave friends, their school and familiar surroundings. That can be pretty tough for anyone. Then they have to make new friends, in a new town, attend a new school and move into a new home.
They are the quintessential new kid in town. I can go on and on; I am sure you can too.
How tough are our kids who grew up in the military? How resilient are they? They have skills that most civilian children will never have. They are tough; they are resilient and much more.
I remember my youngest son who is probably the toughest kid I know but with an innocence and charm that can melt the hardest Parris Island drill instructor’s heart. It was our third permanent change of station, my fourth. One day, he came home from the playground and said, “Another new duty station and another new fight.” He actually said duty station.
He, of course, was “tested” by the “toughest” kid in his age group who lived in the towers where we lived in Okinawa and my son bested him. I scolded him for fighting, but I was quietly proud that he stood his ground to the so-called bully. They soon became buddies and they are still friends to this day (thank you social media). That was almost 15 years ago.
Our military children attend more than sometimes five schools before graduating high school. With that said, I have found they (at least my kids) are more social, out-going and respectful of their elders than some of the civilian kids that I have run into over the years.
They always seem to make friends within the first few days of a new duty station. Most military kids are like this. They learn early in their life how to survive and how to make the best of new and different situations like a permanent change of station move.
According to the website Military Move HQ:
- Military children move four times more often than an average child in the U.S.
- For most children, there are no long-term negative effects related to frequent military moves.
- Children who move frequently often participate in more social activities because they have more opportunities to do so.
- Teenagers who move are more likely to show symptoms of depression.
- Teenage girls are more upset by moving because of the loss of friendships.
- Academic performance tends to decline after a move.
- Kids who were prepared for a move ahead of time adjusted better.
- The most important factor that helps kids adjust well to a move is the relationship that they have with their parents.
I am sure most service members with children have seen or experienced the above factors with their kids.
When I was on active duty and we received orders to a new duty station, I would come home and discuss the move with my wife who (God bless her) had to start all over again as well and sometimes took it rough. Although, she’s pretty tough and has made moving into a science as most military spouses have.
After our discussion, we informed the boys. We always got the same reaction, “Not again!?”
Although after a few hours of trying to make me understand what a move would do to their lives, they embraced the change as if they had a choice. They started asking question about our new duty station and what the place was like, what is the school like, is there a skateboard park on base or in the area? Also, as soon as puberty hit, the questions changed to are there a lot of girls where we are going? How was I supposed to know how many girls were at our new duty station? I use to answer, “Probably the same amount that are here.” When did girls come into the mix? One day, they are playing video games and watching “Dragon Ball Z,” and the next day, they are driving and going to the prom. Actually they still play video games.
I believe one of the most important things that make our military children special is our relationships with them. We raise them to be more resilient and adaptable to new surroundings and situations. Before our eyes, they grew into young men and women that we can be proud of and send into the world knowing that they will survive and thrive.
Here is a suggestion that I am sure you already know and do, but it can’t hurt to say it again. Tell your kids that you love them and thank them for being so strong, understanding and supportive throughout the years that you served or are serving our country.
Visit the following websites for resources and tips about relocating with a family and helping your children cope with moving, deployments and much more. Also, make sure you visit your local Fleet and Family Support Center for assistance.
- Commander, Navy Installations Command Relocation Assistance Program Webpage
- Military Youth on the Move
- Navy School Liaison Officer Directory
- Student at the Center
- Facebook: Navy Child and Youth Program
- Facebook: Navy Youth Sponsorship
- Facebook: Navy School Liaison Officer Program
What advice do you have for a military family?