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Army Teens Cope Better With Deployments

Army adolescents' views on how they are coping with their parents' multiple deployments differ markedly from their parents' perceptions, according to a new Army War College study.

While 56 percent of the 559 adolescents from ages 11 to 17 who participated in a survey said they deal well or very well with their parents' deployments, only 36 percent of their soldier-parents said they thought their children cope well or very well.

Soldiers also perceive that their adolescents have a cumulative increase in stress with multiple deployments - while adolescents actually reported a trend of decreasing stress with each deployment.

"When the results came out, we looked at each other and said, 'We didn't expect this,' " said retired Army Lt. Col. Leonard Wong, a research professor in the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., who co-authored the study with retired Col. Stephen Gerras, professor of behavioral sciences in the school's Department of Command, Leadership and Management.

Seeking an explanation for why soldiers are more pessimistic about their children's ability to cope with deployments than the children themselves, the authors said part of the answer may be simple guilt.

"Who's the reason this whole (deployment) situation exists? And if they're doing well without you, what does that say?" Wong said.

As to why soldiers think the stress is cumulative across multiple deployments, while many adolescents don't, Wong said, "Perhaps soldiers tend to keep a teary farewell or an emotional phone call as the salient memory of their child during a deployment," the researchers reported in the study. "Parents may tend to forget or at least not realize that children often mature through hardships."

Wong noted that 17 percent of the youth respondents said they cope poorly or very poorly with their parents' deployments. If that number is extrapolated to the entire Army population of teenagers this age, it means about 20,000 are doing poorly.

"That's not a good situation," Wong said.

The researchers said the results cannot be generalized across the entire population of Army children because most Army children are younger than the respondents in this survey.

The study comes on the heels of another report from the Rand Corp. think tank, which found that military children in its study had more emotional difficulties compared with national samples. The more cumulative time a parent was deployed, the more problems the children had, Rand found.

The cumulative time away from home was more important than the number of deployments, researchers said.

The Army War College researchers looked at the number of deployments since Sept. 11, 2001, not cumulative time away from home.

In addition to the electronic survey, Army War College researchers individually interviewed 100 adolescents at eight installations "to put flesh on the bones" and provide some understanding of the survey results, Wong said.

These interviews suggested that children 14 to 16 often enjoy their independence and experience less stress when the soldier parent is absent. "My dad - he's the one who enforces the discipline, and my mom's kind of lenient," one 15-year-old told researchers. "When he left, I went through a phase where I got into trouble - talking back to my mom, and going out when I wanted. ... But now that he's back - not anymore!"

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