Children of War Veterans More Likely to Be Involved in Violence

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Last year, nearly 2 million US children had at least one parent serving in the military. Unfortunately, a new study has found an “under-recognized consequence of war” – children who have parents deployed in the military are more than twice as likely to be involved in violent activities, such as carrying a weapon or joining a gang.

Sarah Reed MPH MSW LICSW , who led the first-of-its-kind research, and colleagues from the University of Washington’s School of Public Health examined data from a 2008 questionnaire survey (The Washington State Healthy Youth Survey) of about 10,000 students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades in Washington State which has the sixth largest active duty population in the country. About 550 of those students had a parent deployed to a combat zone in the previous six years.

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Boys and girls whose parents were deployed were more likely to participate in violent activities than children of civilian parents. Even after controlling for factors such as educational background, high school age daughters of deployed parents were nearly three times more likely to be in a gang or get into a fight. The girls were more than twice as likely to carry a weapon to school.

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The rate of boys from deployed families who were engaged in violent behaviors was twice as high as that of the girls from military families.

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The older the child was, the more likely they were involved in violent activities. For example, among eighth-grade boys, the children of deployed parents had a 1.77 time greater risk of fighting. But when they reached 10th and 12th grades, this increased to a 2.6 time greater risk.

Deployment hurts family life in several ways, particularly due to stress and worry. The remaining family members must pick up extra responsibilities while the deployed parent is gone. Even after their return, if the parent was physically or psychologically damaged, there are challenges to face. “How children cope with their parent's deployment is a real issue that countless families are confronted with every day," said Reed in a news release.

The Army National Guard and the US Army Public Health Command list several tips for parents to help support children in the case of military deployment at www.hooah4health.com. These include talking together as a family before military deployment to address painful separation issues and for the remaining family members to continue to support each other during deployment. Keep routines and family traditions, and don’t put life “on hold” until the deployed parent returns and keep communication lines open.

Source: Presentation made to the American Public Health Association’s 139th Annual Meeting in Washington DC. Session 3448: Weapon Carrying, Physical Fighting and Gang Membership among Adolescents in Washington State Military Families. For more about APHA, visit www.apha.org.

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Teens who have at least one parent deployed with the military may be more prone to violence, according to research.