Military Youth and the Deployment Cycle

Esposito-Smythers, C., Wolff, J., Lemmon, K. M., Bodzy, M., Swenson, R. R., & Spirito, A. (2011). Military youth and the deployment cycle: Emotional health consequences and recommendations for intervention. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(4), 497-507.

Esposito-Smythers and colleagues (2011) reviewed empirical studies of the effects of parents’ deployment on military youth. According to these authors, three fifths of deployed U.S. service members have spouses and/or children and over two million children have been affected by wartime deployments since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. These children and adolescents face increased risk of academic, social, emotional, and behavioral problems, including risky and self-injurious behavior. These symptoms vary with stage of deployment. Post-deployment family reintegration, for example, brings a different set of challenges for military personnel, spouses, and children. Nondeployed parents who are dealing with their own loneliness, anxiety, financial concerns, and role shifts may find it difficult to provide emotional support to their children. In fact, studies reviewed in this article indicated that the mental health of the nondeployed spouse has a significant impact on the well-being of children as well as on the deployed service member in terms of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Several prevention and treatment services are available to military families. These include (1) psychoeducation websites and materials aimed at preventing deployment-related psychological difficulties, (2) community outreach services, such as Operation: Military Kids, which connects military youth with local community resources, (3) peer-based services, which include support groups and activities in school and summer camp settings, and (4) family-based services, including counseling and family resilience activities that aid coping during deployment and reintegration. Families of National Guard and Reserve personnel may have greater difficulty accessing such resources since they do not live on a military base and may not interact with other military families. Based on this review, Esposito-Smythers and colleagues recommended that interventions for children and the nondeployed spouse focus on adaptive coping skills and parenting skills. They emphasized that these interventions should be culturally sensitive in that the providers must be familiar with military history, structure, values, and language.

Making Connections

Mental health
Posttraumatic stress disorder
Stress and coping

Media Supplement

This NPR podcast, discusses the stress deployment creates for military spouses. [4 min 30 sec]

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, provides a set of resources designed to assist military children and families.

This interview with Kristina Kaufmann, an advocate for military families, discusses how families are coping with the military service of their loved ones. [4 min 47 sec]