Washington, D.C. –
Adolescent boys with at least one parent in the military are at elevated risk of engaging in school-based physical fighting, carrying a weapon and joining a gang, according to research presented today at the American Public Health Association’s 139th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
The study by researchers at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health looked at the strain of military deployment on U.S. families, particularly its toll on adolescent boys and girls whose parents are on active duty. The research is based on data from the 2008 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey of more than 10,000 adolescents in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades of public schools.
The study finds that military deployment is associated with a 1.77 higher odds of physical fighting and 2.14 higher odds of gang membership among adolescent boys in 8th grade. Girls in 8th grade with at least one parent in the military were at twice the risk of carrying a weapon.
According to the findings, older youth have a higher likelihood of engaging in risky behavior. In 10th and 12th grade, girls with a deployed parent had higher odds of reporting school-based weapon carrying (2.2) and physical fighting (2.6), and being a member of a gang (2.84). Boys with a deployed parent were at increased risk of school-based weapon carrying (2.87) and physical fighting (2.48), and gang membership (2.08). The connection between the negative behavior was constant after controlling for grade, race/ethnicity and maternal education.
Researchers say some youth miss out on the opportunity to learn positive health behaviors while a parent is serving. They cite deployment cycle stress including predeployment, deployment and reintegration; long and multiple deployments; differences in components (e.g., active duty vs. National Guard); challenges in accessing support services; and emotional distress of the non-deployed parent/caregiver as possible pathways to missed opportunities.
“This study raises serious concerns about an under recognized consequence of war. How children cope with their parent’s deployment is a real issue that countless families are confronted with every day,” said Sarah Reed, MPH, MSW, LICSW, lead researcher of the study. “There is a unique opportunity here to intervene and offer these children – who are acutely vulnerable to negative influences – the support they need so they don’t turn to violence as a way to help cope.”
Researchers emphasize the urgent need for greater support of innovative school- and community-based initiatives that improve the health and safety of youth in military families. In 2010, 1.98 million United States children had at least one parent serving in the military. This is a follow-up study that Reed and her team conducted earlier this year that analyzed mental health problems of children with military parents.
Session 3448: Weapon Carrying, Physical Fighting and Gang Membership among Adolescents in Washington State Military Families
Date: Monday, October 31, 2011: 5:15 PM
Researcher: Sarah Reed, MPH, MSW, LICSW, Maternal and Child Health Leadership Training Program, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.
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