Are Children of Military Parents More Violent?

War is hell...on children. According to a recent study conducted in the state of Washington, an alarming percentage of children with at least one parent in the military exhibit violent behavior. Considering that two million children in the United States had a parent in the military in 2010, is this problem more widespread? And if so, are school officials, community leaders and mental health professionals prepared to deal with the problem?

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'Under-Recognized Consequence of War'

Results of the University of Washington study show that between 10% and 20% of surveyed children of military parents are in gangs. Nearly 30% of boys and 14% of girls state they have been in fights. Girls in eighth grade with a parent deployed in the armed forces are twice as likely to carry a weapon as civilian girls.

Why?

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, the military deployment of a parent can result in various emotional responses in their children. These emotions can include anger, isolation and fear. In many cases these adolescents, lacking a role model for proper behaviors, turn to other kids for acceptance and companionship and invariably wind up in the wrong crowd.

Sarah Reed, the lead researcher in this unprecedented study focusing on those deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, told the Associated Press in October that children of deployed parents are 'acutely vulnerable to negative influences.' She added, 'This study raises serious concerns about an under-recognized consequence of war.'

Not a Boys-Only Club

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the study's findings is the fact that the violent behavior is not confined only to boys.

Daughters of military parents also get into fights (about three times more likely than other girls), join gangs (also three times more likely) or carry a weapon (twice as likely). While twice as many boys display such behavior, the numbers for girls are still shocking and somewhat unexpected as girls typically display their feelings of anger or stress in a more 'introverted' manner.

No Help on the Horizon?

Reed says that more research is needed in this area to confirm these results. If results of the study are confirmed, the next question is likely, 'What can be done to help these students?'

Unfortunately, there are few enough programs to assist even war veterans themselves, let alone their children. In October 2011, The Washington Post reported that a survey of Department of Veterans Affairs doctors and social workers showed that many of these individuals feel the department simply lacks the staff to treat the large number of veterans in need of mental health care.

While the department does provide resources for teacher and school counselor training to help the children of military parents, organizations such as the American Psychoanalytic Association call for increased programs and greater public awareness and advocacy to support these children.

If the numbers reported in the Washington study are any indication, these types of programs need to be made available sooner rather than later. If not, the behavior of a disturbing number of children may simply become another casualty of war.

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