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A Toolkit About Military Teens

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We serve, too.A Toolkit about Military TeensNational Military Family Association Toolkit 1

INTRODUCTIONA recent RAND study commissioned by theNational Military Family Association exploredhow children from military families are faringwith the wartime deployments of their parents.RAND surveyed 1,500 youth (applicants to theAssociation’s Operation Purple summercamps ranging in age from 11 to 17), as well aseach subject’s non-deployed parent at home.The study found that rates of anxiety amongmilitary children—as well as emotional andbehavioral difficulties—are higher than thenational averages, and that longer periodsof parental deployment exacerbated thesechallenges.The study also found that the majority ofmilitary families are healthy and coping wellwith the challenges of deployment. And forthose youth and families struggling, the studyoffers hope and cites specific areas ofopportunity to strengthen military families.Ten Things Military TeensWant You to KnowEach summer, the National Military FamilyAssociation’s Operation Purple program providesa free week of camp for thousands of militaryyouth who have a parent serving in the UniformedServices. We ask them to tell us the best andhardest parts about military life in a popularactivity called the Top Ten list. The messages inthis toolkit summarize what they’ve said over thepast few years.The National Military Family Association createdthis kit to give the people in military teens’ lives—teachers, school counselors, coaches, communityor religious youth group leaders, neighbors, familyfriends, or relatives—a way to help them managestress and affirm the positive aspects of militarylife.What we hear repeatedly from military teens isthat they need people in their community to knowwhat they’re going through.The best thing you cando for a military teen isknow who they are andbe there when they needsomeone to talk to.2 National 2010 NationalMilitary FamilyMilitaryAssociationFamily AssociationToolkit Toolkit

1. SERVICE“Being a military kid teaches you to be strong.”Strength, perseverance, and sacrifice are words we associate with our troops. And these are the same traits wesee in military teens. They send care packages to their military parents when they are fighting overseas. Theytake on new tasks when situations change in their families. They grow up with a sense of community and serviceto country.Although they do it for their family, they’re also sustaining their service member for America. Celebrate theirachievements. Recognize their efforts to the country. Use these strategies as an opportunity to empower allyouth and the valuable contributions they can make in their communities:Along with offering a simple “thankyou” to the service members andtheir families, you can offer to takea responsibility off of their hands,become a pen pal, or volunteer toorganize a care package shipmentto deployed soldiers. Celebrate the Month of theMilitary Child in April. A month ofcelebration in recognition of thechildren of service members forthe daily sacrifices they make insupporting their military loved ones. Support legislation that providesnew opportunities for militaryyouth. Download a copy of the NationalMilitary Family Association’sMilitary Child Bill of Rights atwww.MilitaryFamily.org/BillofRightsand use it as a guide to supportmilitary teens you know. Make military teens feelwelcome when they moveto your neighborhood. Listen to their concerns and discusstheir worries. Show your appreciation for theirfamily’s service by getting involved. Tell them you’re proud of them.Sometimes they just need to hearthat they’re doing a great job fortheir family and their country.Resources:National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple Camps. Visit www.MilitaryFamily.org for more information.Boys & Girls Clubs of America Military Support—with more than 350 military youth centers aroundthe world, this is a place where military teens canfeel at home, no matter where that is. Visitwww.bgca.org/partners/military for more information.Additional resources on this topic can be found atwww.MilitaryFamily.org/toolkit-service.We serve, too. 2010 National Military Family Association Toolkit 3

2. DIVERSITY“Military kids make friends fast.”There are nearly 500 U.S. military bases around the world. Some active duty families have lived in popular places likeGermany, Japan, and Italy for several years at a time. Teens and pre-teens may have even picked up a foreignlanguage or two.But even if they haven’t lived overseas, active duty families have experienced many parts of America. The ArmedForces closely represent the racial makeup of America. Between moving and the diverse nature of the Service,military youth have grown up in an environment that reflects the real world.No matter the Service, military youth have embraced the positive parts of change. Where many of their peersoutside of the military are stabilized in one neighborhood or go to school with the same people until graduation,military youth learn to value the opportunity to see new parts of the world and meet new people from differentbackgrounds than their own. What an incredible life lesson to learn so young! Draw from their experiencesthis way: Use them as classroomresources. Globetrotting teenscan give priceless first-handperspectives about othercultures for fellow students.Ask them to share treasuresacquired from other regions,countries, or cultures. Include military youth as partof your organization’s advisorygroup or teen panel. As localand world travelers they bringa valuable perspective thatshould be counted. Help graduating teens whohave spent a significantamount of time in foreigncountries research collegesand professions they may notbe familiar with. Get theminvolved in organizations thathelp them find their talents,whether in a military career oranother profession. Contact your staterepresentatives and then helpyour state join the InterstateCompact on EducationalOpportunity for MilitaryChildren, which recognizesand supports the mobilemilitary family and values aworldwide education.Resources:4-H Military Partnerships—4-H has special programs for thedevelopment of military youth. Check out the services px.Future Business Leaders of America—helping teens buildleadership skills and confidence for more than 60 years atwww.fbla-pbl.org.MCEC Teen Stories—Watch military teens talk about whatit’s like to live in other countries in the video Student 2Student at www.youtube.com/MilitaryChild.Additional resources on this topic can be found atwww.MilitaryFamily.org/toolkit-diversity.4 National2010 NationalMilitary MilitaryFamily AssociationFamily AssociationTooToolkitolkit ToolkitWe valuediversity and newexperiences.

3. COMMUNITY“Our parents are serving our country, and we have a hero.”Nearly 85 percent of military teens attend public schools instead of Department of Defense schools. Only about35 percent of active duty military families even live in military housing. So, although children of service membersare part of the unique military culture, they spend most of their time in the local community.And the more than 700,000 National Guard and Reserve kids might never live on a military installation.These families look within their community for friendship and support. But to reach our military youth, we haveto know who they are and understand them. Here are a few ways to get started: Poll the teens in your group tosee how many of them have amilitary connection. Even if theydon’t have a parent serving,many teens have brothers,sisters, aunts, uncles,cousins, or grandparents serving. Familiarize yourself with militarylife. Learn the differencesbetween active duty and reservecomponent service. Look atthe uniqueness of each servicebranch—Army, Navy, MarineCorps, Air Force, Coast Guard,and the Commissioned Corps ofthe USPHS and NOAA. Read blogs and books withfirsthand accounts aboutmilitary life. Note the diversityof experiences along with thecommon challenges and rewardsof military life. Download a copy of the NationalMilitary Family Association’sMilitary Child Bill of Rights atwww.MilitaryFamily.org/BillofRights and use it as guide tosupport military teens you know.We live in thecommunity. Schools can assign literaturethat examines military life andfeatures teenage characters. Talkabout the books with a classor group. Ask military youthto share what is the same ordifferent in their lives from whatthey read. Educate your group aboutreaching out to the “new kid.”Military teens are often toldto make new friends, but thecommunity must reciprocate tomake the connection happen.Resources:Listing of all military installations—organized by service athttp://apps.mhf.dod.mil/pls/psgprod/f?p 107:7:453955382099448.Resource list of National Guard Family Assistance Programs in allstates—the support provided by the family assistance centers isavailable for families of all military Services in the communitiesserved. Visit www.jointservicessupport.com.“Military Brats and Other Global Nomads: Growing Up inOrganization Families” by Morten Ender, sociology professorat the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.Additional resources on this topic can be found atwww.MilitaryFamily.org/toolkit-community. 2010 ationAssociationToolkitToolkit 5

4. PRIDE“My dad didn’t just go on a trip, he served his country.”The children in military families can identify aircraft and explain rank. The military culture is unique and being partof it makes teens feel special. It’s easy to see why teens say they are proud of the job their parents do for thecountry.It can also be emotionally complicated. Teens may resent parents for missing important events, and yet they arestill proud of them. Regardless of how they feel, military teens overwhelmingly name their military parents aspositive role models.Ensuring teens have a support structure when they may not have extended or immediate family membersaround is critical in these tumultuous years. You can help strengthen the bond with their military parents usingthese strategies: Invite the military parent to speakto your school or organization.This can be especially helpfulwhen the parent returns froma deployment. It gives teens achance to express their pridewithout saying a word. Distinguish between the parent’sservice and politics of war.Teenagers can separate the twoand be proud of their militaryparent without necessarilyagreeing with the country’sdecision makers. Still, politicalstatements can be takennegatively if they are perceived tobe “against” the Service. Usecomplimentary statements suchas, “While our service membershave done incredible work,”before talking about the biggerissues of politics and Americaninvolvement in global conflictto show you are sensitive to thedivision between duty and debate. Military kids understand the valueof service to others. Develop thatunderstanding by letting themlead a community service event. Highlight local heroes like firemenand police officers, along withResources:National Military Family Association’s Military Family Award—nominate an extraordinary military family for a cash prize and atrip to Washington D.C. at www.MilitaryFamily.org.“My Hero: Military Kids Write About Their Moms and Dads,” by AllenAppel and Mark Rothmiller— visit www.asymca.org for more details.Additional resources on this topic can be found atwww.MilitaryFamily.org/toolkit-pride.We are proudof our parents.6 National2010 NationalMilitary MilitaryFamily AssociationFamily AssociationToolkit Toolkitmilitary service members, to showmilitary youth they are part ofa large supportive communityof public servants who live withsome uncertainty about safetyand absence from the family.Invite those teens, along withmilitary teens, for a roundtablediscussion about public service. Create a column in yourorganization’s newsletter, blog, ormagazine that discusses militarylife. Let military teens contributepersonal essays.

5. TRANSITION“Moving made me more adaptable, but sometimes when you move, you leavewithout saying goodbye to your friends.”Family and furniture are about the only things that stay the same in a military family’s life. Military teens like gettingto know new people and places, but moving is one of the toughest things about military life. Military children willsay goodbye to more significant people by age 18 than the average person will during a lifetime. Children of singleservice members may have to move in with a grandparent or other relative when their parent deploys.Changing schools and leaving friends behind can pose risks for isolation and affect a teen’s grades andextracurricular activities when college is on the horizon.These strategies may help them get settled: Find or create activities that bringmilitary parents, teens, teachers,and other community leaderstogether. You’ll build awarenessin the community and show teensthey have a support networkimmediately. Sports and other extracurricularactivities may be the fewconstants in a military student’slife and a way to make new friendsfast. When possible, be lenient withtryout dates and admission cut-offs.Give them the chance to thrive inthe classes that are mostappropriate for them, not just theones available in the middle of theterm. Find out if your state has adoptedthe Interstate Compact forMilitary Children that facilitatesthe process of children movingfrom school to school insteadof penalizing them. If your stateis not a member contact yourschool district offices toencourage them to get involved. Help teens focus on theirrelationshipsnow and not what they’ll losein a future move. When it’stime to move, get their classes,clubs, or houses of worshipinvolved in keeping relationshipsgoing through email and socialnetworking sites. Create relationships with the localmilitary installation or reservecomponent units throughcooperative activities. The militaryis bursting with professionalsusing the latest technology andmedicine who might be willing totalk about their jobs. When thereis a move or deployment, you areconnected with this importantresource and can get new teensplugged into their militaryresources right away. Create a student peer supportgroup that matches new arrivalswith student mentors who canmake sure they learn to navigatetheir new school and don’t haveto eat lunch alone. School counselors should ensureall transcripts from previousschools are current and in thestudents’ records.We move. A lot. Start after-school clubs for kidswith deployed parents.Resources:Military Teens on the Move—Tips and advice for teens, with stories fromteens at www.defenselink.mil/mtom/t4 41.htm.National Network of Partnership Schools—provides research-basedguidance on engaging parents, schools, and community leadersto create student success in schools. Find out more at www.partnershipschools.org.Military Impacted Schools Association serves school districtswith information to ease students’ school transitions.Visit www.militaryimpactedschoolsassociation.org for more information.Additional resources on this topic can be found atwww.MilitaryFamily.org/toolkit-transition. 2010 ationAssociationToolkitToolkit 7

6. RECOGNITION“I am really thankful for everything you have done for me.”Programs, praise, and bargain deals for military families have peppered the country—and teens have noticed.For example, Operation Purple campers clearly understand the value of getting a free week of summer camp. Itreminds them that someone cares about them and understands life is sometimes tough for military families. Ofcourse they need to have a balance of tangible and intangible support. Here are some ways to do both: Say thanks to a military teen. Fly your flag, wear a pin, ordisplay a “support our troops”ribbon—then sustain it withactions. Yes, teens do notice. Have class members interviewand write an essay about a servicemember. Then share the storieswith the entire class. Write “thank you” notes todeployed troops. Celebrate the Month of theMilitary Child in April, NationalMilitary Appreciation Monthin May, and Military FamilyAppreciation Month in November. Donate to a military charity inhonor of a military family youknow. Ensure school counselors andmentors are aware ofscholarshipsoffered to military teens. TheAmerican Legion publishes afinancial aid guide availablethrough their website titled “Needa Lift,” which lists many militarychild scholarship programsincluding the popular DefenseCommissary Agency (DeCA)program.Resources:National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple Camps.Visit www.MilitaryFamily.org for more information.Boys & Girls Clubs of America Military Support—with more than350 military youth centers around the world, this is a place wheremilitary teens can feel at home, no matter where that is.Visit www.bgca.org/partners/military for more information.Additional resources on this topic can be found atwww.MilitaryFamily.org/toolkit-service.We appreciaterecognition of ourfamilies’ service.8 National2010 NationalMilitary MilitaryFamily AssociationFamily AssociationToolkit Toolkit Support initiatives that providebetter education, health care, andrecreational activities for militaryteens. Schools, places of worship, ordoctors’ offices can use emptywall space to recognize thedeployed parents of militaryteens. Use photos or short storiesto highlight them. It also serves asa constant reminder that there aremen and women in uniform livingin your neighborhood.

7. BELONGING“Sometimes I feel like I want to quit and just be normal for a bit.”What’s “normal?” Whatever it is, it’s something teens strive for. And even though they may usemilitary acronyms in their speech or have lived in five states and two foreign countries before their16th birthday, they are teens just like all the rest. They want to fit in, make friends, and have fun.One way to deal with the challenges of military life is to help them see what they have in commonwith other teens. It gets their minds off themselves for a while, and they may even find copingstrategies from other teen groups. Also, maintaining a sense of normalcy is key to getting throughdeployments. Here are suggestions that can bring military teens and other teens together: Don’t treat military teensdifferently. Changing yourbehavior toward them may signalpity and insincerity and no onelikes that. In one military teen’swords, “Don’t cozy up to me.That’s creepy.” Older siblings of large families,single parent homes, or familiesin rural areas often have extraresponsibilities. They could swapstories with military teens abouthow they juggle it all. Teach all teens how to deal withtransition, change, or loss.Whether it’s a break up or a bigmove, change is a part of life thateveryone experiences. Teens of deceased or disabledparents can share experienceswith military teens whose parentsare injured or suffering fromtraumatic memories. Expand their horizons. Do anexercise that emphasizes what allteens have in common. Exploreteens’ lives in other cultures.We are just likemost teens ina lot of ways. Organize a travelers’ club.Military teens will make newfriends and find commonalitywith other non-military familieswho share a diverse travelingexperience.Resources:Boys & Girls Clubs of America Military Support—hosts more than 350 military youthcenters around the world. Visit www.bgca.org/partners/military for more information.Learn how to start your own peer support program for transitioning students andview a list of S2S programs in your area at ent.Learn about a successful Student 2 Student program that brought new kidsinto a community through student and teacher partnerships atwww.kdhnews.com/news/story.aspx?s 26829.Additional resources on this topic can be found atwww.MilitaryFamily.org/toolkit

Nearly 85 percent of military teens attend public schools instead of Department of Defense schools. Only about 35 percent of active duty military families even live in military housing. So, although children of service members are part of the unique military culture, they spend most of their time in the local community.