What’s the truth about being a military kid? Does everyone struggle with moving? Do all military kids’ grades suffer because of all of the change? We asked military-kid expert, Stacey Huisman, to find out the truth about what life really means for military kids. The answers aren’t as simple as headlines tell us.
FACT OR FICTION? The Truth About Being a Military Kid
By Stacey Huisman
1. ALL military kids suffer academically
FICTION (and some FACT)
It’s not always the case that frequent moves and school changes are academically challenging. In fact, evidence indicates these challenges may be related to more well-adjusted children. According to a study published in American Psychology in 2011 by N. Park, military-connected children reportedly have lower rates of psychopathology, less juvenile delinquency, less risky behavior, better grades, greater self-control and higher median IQs than civilian children.
Childhood resilience may result from the upsides of military life: financial security, guaranteed health care, subsidized education, quality of living and a large support system. However, military kids who struggle with moving and changes may be more adversely impacted when it comes to academics. And older children, especially those in high school, can have difficulty with transferring credits and transitioning coursework. So while the majority of military kids will do fine, some will struggle at certain points in their academics due to military life.
2. Living overseas is horrible for military kids
Sure, moving to a foreign country can be challenging — especially the language barrier — but for most it’s a grand adventure. There is something surreal about having your son’s Cub Scout Den hike through ancient castle ruins in Germany or a high school student’s calculus club study architectural math in Greece. Actually, surreal is an understatement. Children’s brains are perfectly postured to learn new languages, and their experiences in the world outside the United States shape their views – that’s a good thing! Blinders are removed when they are exposed to new cultures. They become well-rounded adults tolerant of people and views that differ from their own.
3. Military parents are very strict and hard on their kids
No, this one is definitely false. Our parenting styles and methods are on par with – that is to say as varied as – our civilian counterparts. People should not mistake rearing respectful children for being strict disciplinarians. Military-connected kids will drop their hat and stand still as a statue when they hear the national anthem, not because parents force them but because we show them. Military parents lead by example and our kids usually follow. As a whole, we are usually on-time people, because we live by the clock. We usually respect authority, those who wear the uniform and the American flag. We appreciate acts of service and sacrifice because it’s part of our daily lives; this appreciation is second nature to adult family members and our children by extension. So listen up Hollywood! Stop making all military parents out to be bossy-pants parents at home.
4. Military children struggle with friendships
FACT and FICTION
Many military kids are experts at developing and keeping friendships. They are masters at it. Most military kids make friends easily, mainly out of necessity of frequent moves. And some military kids keep their friendships long after a move and into adulthood. Many adult military brats are still in touch with fellow brats from decades ago. Maintaining friendships is part of the military lifestyle. Plus today’s technology allows a military kid simply to pick up an iPhone or jump on the Internet to chat with a best friend on a different continent.
But that doesn’t mean that some kids don’t struggle with friendships. Frequent moves combined with a shy personality or other traits that cause making friendships hard, can mean some military kids have a hard time. It’s important to understand that not all military kids are the same so it’s important that we find and help those who are struggling.
5. Moving is hard
Yes, this myth is mostly true, you’d have to heartless not to feel sadness when moving away from a place you’ve enjoyed. However, people forget about the upside to moving: kids are able to reinvent themselves with every move. It’s an amazing opportunity, one that their civilian counterparts don’t often get to experience.
When a child moves to a new school or community, they leave behind things or actions that defined them. Their new peers have no idea whether they are terrible soccer players, cannot throw a ball or didn’t make it past the first round in last year’s spelling bee. They could be a cheerleader at one school or in the marching band at the next one; it’s up to the children to define themselves, to take advantage of the chance to start or become something new. The opportunity to reinvent oneself is a gift for many military kids, especially teens. Yes, moving is hard, but let’s not forget that for many can also be an opportunity for positive change.
Military kids are just like their civilian counterparts – unique in the way they react and are able to handle change. While news headlines say all military kids are struggling, the truth is that most are doing fine. However, we need to keep working to identify the ones who are having a hard time so they can get the help they need to thrive in our ever-changing lifestyle.
Read more great stuff from Stacy! Visit FAMILIES ON THE HOME FRONT, where they help military children (and their civilian friends) maximize their developmental and learning potential by addressing their unique challenges through parent education and educational advocacy.
Stacy is a freelance writer and advocate with a passion for military families and children. Stacy was published in the popular book Stories Around the Table – Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life. She was also a judge for Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year 2015.