Study finds military children surprisingly resilient

By Tom Philpott: Military Update

Casey Tencick, a fifth-grade teacher at Patriot Elementary School on Fort Carson, Colo., read here about a RAND study assessing how military children are stressed by their parents’ frequent wartime deployments. Tencick thought her students would find the content of the column interesting and might like to react themselves to what the study, paid for by National Military Family Association, discovered about military children.

Did they ever.

I got a packet of letters from her kids a few weeks later. The students, in their own words, confirmed their rising anxieties. But the letters also showed what Tencick astutely identifies as their “amazing resilience.” Hayli Charlesworth, for one, wasn’t buying RAND’s conclusion that wartime deployments usually are harder on daughters than on sons.

“I know exactly what message you’re trying to send — that girls are not as strong mentally as boys — which I for one think is so untrue. Some girls are stronger than boys. I am out of paper but I am so not finished here. Don’t listen to Brianna!”

Brianna Brown, whose dad deployed last month, agreed with the finding that deployments are emotionally more difficult for girls. She said she experiences the same stress found among the 1,500 children surveyed. Still, she added, “I’m prepared for what might happen.”

The study concludes that multiple, lengthy wartime deployments are taking an emotional toll on military children. RAND interviewed non-deployed parents and their children, ages 11 through 17. They concluded that children who experience a greater number of parental deployments suffer more “emotional difficulties” in connecting to families, engaging in school work and mixing with peers.

The higher stress levels among service kids were expected. But researchers were surprised to learn that problems for these children deepened as deployments got longer or more frequent.

Of her 24 students, Tencick said, most have had a parent deploy two or three times. Some even left on their fourth tour away. When interviewed in March, Tencick explained that four of her children had parents deploying that month, three had parents returning from war, and two other children were leaving Fort Carson for another base. The study, she said, captured the stress but perhaps it missed the strength of these children.

“I watch these kids every day. I admire their ‘I’m-going-to-get-the-job-done’ attitude, their resilience to do what needs to be done, even though there is a lot of stuff going on” in their lives, Tencick said.

One youngster wrote painfully of how hard mom works when her husband is deployed, and she works even harder when he returns, trying to make reintegration a success for a dad who can “act mean.”

“My mental health from stress is not good,” the youngster confided.

The class tackled this exercise with enthusiasm, said Tencick, because the study was about them — how they live and how they cope.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:

milupdate@aol.com