07/23/2013 08:55 am ET

'Child Trends Study' Reveals The Toll Parents' Military Service Takes On Young Children


A new study finds that the half a million young children of parents on active duty are facing serious risks to their mental development.

Child Trends, a research nonprofit that focuses on the wellbeing of children, released a new study suggesting that young children in military families are extremely vulnerable to long-term emotional strain. Children under the age of six are at risk for developing mental anxiety when one or both of their parents are serving on active duty -- especially if the parent returns from their service with damaged physical and/or mental health.

David Murphey, the author of Child Trend's study “Home Front Alert: The Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families,” told the Washington Post that this particular group of children is facing emotional obstacles that could develop into more serious long-term issues.

“We’re concerned that children exposed to stressful events, particularly traumatic stressful events, will have difficulty learning to cope with emotions, to do well socially and academically, and even have problems with their physical health,” he said. “As these younger children grow up, we can expect there will be at least a subset of them that will face very substantial problems.”

Murphey explains the delicate nature of these young children's mental development in a recent Child Trends video.

"It could be the accumulation of those stresses as well as a single overwhelming stress that can lead to really lasting changes in the developing brain that can have negative implications for development further down the line," he said.

Despite these recent findings, several military families and children can cope well with their challenging circumstances. Morgan Kistler, the wife of a U.S. Coast Guard service member, mentioned in a recent blog post that the military-connected children with which she has interacted seem to be positive and happy.

"What I've seen in the past six years from my own children, as well as our friends' children, is that military kids are anything but sad and lonely. They are some of the most well adjusted, open minded, easy going, friendly kids you could find anywhere. They have to be. Yeah it sucks that they have to leave their friends and yes they're sad sometimes, but they also know how to readjust, pick up the pieces and move on better than any kid who lives in the same place their entire life."

Nevertheless, expanding mental health and social resources available to these children is an important task to prevent potential issues with their emotional development.

The Child Trends report suggests various ways to prevent emotional strain on military children -- some of which include, providing parents services to cope with deployment separation, encouraging frequent pediatric visits, and offering mental health services to these children in early educational settings.



Military Homecomings