The 1.76 million children and youth in military families are predominantly in early and middle childhood; 78 percent are under the age of 11 (active duty) and 80 percent are under the age of 15 (reservists).
More than two million American children have had a parent deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. At least 19,000 children have had a parent wounded in action while over 2,200 children have lost a parent in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Children in military families experience high rates of mental health, trauma and related problems. Military life can be a source of psychological stress for children. Multiple deployments, frequent moves and having a parent injured or die is a reality for many children in military families. Wartime parental deployments can be one of the most stressful events of a child’s life. Changes reported included changes in school performance, lashing out in anger, worrying, hiding emotions, disrespecting parents and authority figures, feeling a sense of loss, and symptoms consistent with depression.
High levels of sadness have been documented in children in all age groups. Depression was seen in about one in four children. Academic problems occurred in one in five children. Thirty-seven percent of children with a deployed parent reported that they seriously worry about what could happen to their deployed caretaker. Parents reported that one in five children coped poorly or very poorly to deployment separation.
Media coverage of the war posed a significant source of stress for children and makes it much more difficult for children to cope with a parent’s deployment. Length of deployment was associated with mental health problems including depression, acting out, and externalizing behaviors.