Study reveals patriotic, active children suffer less deployment stress
February 10, 2010
WASHINGTON - Adolescents who believe that America supports the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and that Soldiers are making a difference in the world are less likely to suffer from anxiety and stress when their parent deploys, according to research unveiled Jan. 28.
Army War College researcher Leonard Wong described his 2009 study during a media roundtable Jan. 28 at the Pentagon. The study, which was supported by U.S. Army Forces Command, examined effects of multiple deployments on military adolescents.
The research revealed that strong Army Families and increased activity by children also reduced the level of stress, Wong said.
Wong and War College colleague Stephen Gerras conducted a survey of more than 2,000 Soldiers, 700 Army spouses and 550 Army adolescents. They further interviewed more than 100 Army children (ages 11-17) at eight Army installations across the country, asking them a variety of questions based on psychological scales.
The study was based on six factors they believed influenced the amount of stress that a child experiences when their Soldier deploys to war: cumulative amount of deployments; strong Families; supportive mentors; activities; communication; and personal beliefs.
Wong said when children were asked to agree or disagree with the statement, "The American public supports the war," results were significant.
"What we saw was not a steep relationship, but a significant relationship, that the more a child agrees with this statement, the lower their stress levels," Wong explained.
He also said their analysis revealed that adolescents, especially teenagers, who were active in sports and came from strong military Families, produced significantly lower stress levels as well.
"If we had to pick the one influence that accounts for the most variant in a child's stress level, it is their participation in activities, specifically sports," Wong said. "It (sports) keeps them distracted, takes their mind off the deployment, keeps them busy.
"The next largest influence is that you need a strong Family," he added.
Wong attributed strong Families as the reason why the majority of military children cope well during multiple deployments, noting the 56 percent of children surveyed said they were doing, "not OK, but well or very well overall with deployments."
"That surprised us; we were really expecting it to be worse," he said.
However, Wong said he was even more surprised when their research revealed the biggest predictor of a child's ability to cope with a life of deployments is the child's belief that Soldiers are making a difference in the world. "This totally surprised us," he added.
Wong pointed out the study showed a cumulative number of previous deployments did not significantly relate to adolescent levels of deployment stress.
"There was no raising of the stress levels," he said. "Interestingly, we found that with each deployment, the child's level of stress went down. That's because they've coped with it the first time, and then by second time, they've already learned how to deal with it, so when third time rolls around, they deal with it even better."
Meanwhile, Wong emphasized that while there are a lot of hurting children out there - meaning those having trouble coping with a parent's deployment - there are many others who have come to accept it as a way of life.
"There are also a lot of (children) there who have internalized the value of sacrifice, of selfless service, of duty. And they're not happy about their parent being gone, but they understand it, and that helps them to cope."
The complete Army study can be found online at www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil.