The Grapevine

Military Kids Are At Greater Risk Of Substance Use, Violence; Promoting Resilience Is Crucial

Military kid
Research shows that kids with parents or caregivers in the military are more likely to use illegal substances, engage in violence, harassment, and carry weapons than their non-military peers. Marines CC BY-NC 2.0

Being in the military is tough, but being a child whose parent is in the military is even tougher. Depending on what branch of the military your parent is in and how far he/she is up the career ladder, you might spend your childhood crossing the country — sometimes the globe — following your parent to different bases. You go to different schools, get different friends, and grow up in a very non-traditional way. That non-traditional way may lead to a higher prevalence of adverse outcomes when compared to non-military peers.

According to a new study, war-related stressors — separation from parents because of deployment, frequent relocation, and worrying about future deployments — may be the cause of the adverse outcomes, even if young children in military families grow up resilient.

Kathrine Sullivan, of the University of Southern California School of Social Work, Los Angeles and her team viewed data from 2013 that included 54,679 military-connected and 634,034 nonmilitary-connected secondary school students from public civilian schools in every county and almost all the school districts in California. Students were described as military-connected if a parent or caregiver was involved in the military.

Latino students made up the highest percentage (51.9) of the sample, with 7.9 percent saying they had a family member or caregiver currently serving in the military. Military-connected students reported higher lifetime and recent levels of substance use, violence, harassment, and weapon-carrying when compared to their peers. The researchers gave some examples to justify their claims:

  • 45.2 percent of military-connected youth reported lifetime alcohol use compared with 39.2 percent of their nonmilitary-connected peers

  • 12.2 percent of military-connected youth reported recently smoking cigarettes in the previous 30 days compared with about 8.4 percent of their nonmilitary peers

  • 62.5 percent of military-connected students reported any physical violence compared with 51.6 percent of nonmilitary-connected students

  • 17.7 percent of military-connected youth reported carrying a weapon at school compared with 9.9 percent of nonmilitary students

  • 11.9 percent of military-connected students reported recent other drug use (e.g., cocaine and LSD) compared with 7.3 percent of nonmilitary peers

The data was cross-sectional, the authors stated, and couldn’t infer causality. It was also self-reported, which led the authors to believe that the students who’d responded may not have been as truthful as the researchers would have hoped.

"Based on the totality of findings from this study and others, further efforts are needed to promote resilience among military children who are struggling. More efforts in social contexts, including civilian schools and communities, to support military families during times of war are likely needed," the study said

Source: Kathrine Sullivan, Gordon Capp, et al. Substance Abuse and Other Adverse Outcomes for Military-Connected Youth in California: Results From a Large-Scale Normative Population Survey. 2015.

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