"I thought I had deployments all figured out. My dad's been deployed 4 times since I was 8 years-old. I'm in 11th grade now and he's gone again. But this time is different. The deployment started out like all the others. He missed football season, my band competition, the Spaghetti night at church. But he's missed all those things before. He had R&R leave just after Christmas so that was great. But then he didn't get to go skiing with us at spring break and now tomorrow's the last day of school. He's missed my ENTIRE junior year of high school. That's never happened before. For some reason, my grades really took a nose dive there toward the end. I kept getting these headaches and maybe cut some classes here and there. Things just did't seem right."
This teen was caught by surprise. This deployment was harder to handle than previous ones. Recent research suggests that many teens have the same experience. Older teens often have more difficulty coping with deployments than younger youth, and ALL kids have a harder time dealing with longer deployments than shorter repeated deployments.
Why would older teens have more difficulty? Comments from teens suggest that older teenagers may especially miss their parent as they near their "launch" into the world. They struggle with their parent missing those momentous "last" events of high school and not having them around to help plan for the future.
Why would longer deployments be tougher than repeated deployments? Many military kids sense this difference. Once you get used to the rhythm, shorter deployments seem manageable. Your parent misses out on some things, but not everything. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But with longer deployments, it wears you down. It begins to feel as though your parent is missing EVERYTHING that's important.
- If you're an older teen or facing a longer deployment, you are now armed with the knowledge of what to expect. Plan accordingly.
- For longer deployments, build in more supports as time goes on. Identify the coping strategies that help you the most and increase those over time. Find ways to reduce other stressors in your life later in the cycle.
- For older teens, develop a way to talk regularly with your deployed parent about your future. Use the internet to explore "together" colleges, jobs, apartments or cities. Make a commitment to film, journal, take photos or send links to your deployed parent of all the "last" events of high school.