Teens and Deployment
GMFRC Deployment Articles and Information
“So, I was told today that I will be deployed in a couple of months for a 6 month tour” is not usually what a spouse/partner wants to hear. Add that to the fact that you just started to settle into your new location because you were posted 6 months ago and are far away from your previous home. Then, throw into the mix that you have children; a tween and a teen to be exact. Ugh…how are you going to break the news to them that one of their parents will be leaving on a deployment for 6 months! Ok, take a deep breath…you’ve got this…we’ve got this…right?
Telling your adolescent children that their parent will be away from home for months may be the easiest part of the entire deployment journey. But, with that will come many different emotions for them. As a parent, it is important to be aware of what those emotions might look like, how to react to them, and how you help your children to deal with them. There may be feelings of excitement for the parent who will be deployed (they may have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time!). They may be sad, angry, scared, uncertain, stressed, or feeling numb and not really sure how to feel about it. Tweens and teens may not always be the best communicators at the best of times. But, when you are put into a situation where you have no control, it compounds everything. Being in a relatively new location, home, school, trying to find your way, making new friends, missing your ‘old’ place and friends, and still not feeling settled, just to have your life turned upside down with yet another change, can be really hard on everyone. As a parent, there is a lot you can do to support your children through yet another change and show them that all changes aren’t bad and that there are always opportunities through change. It can also be a time to teach resilience and how to adapt, which will be life-long skills that they will be able to use forever.
Allowing time and space to absorb the news, asking questions, and talking about what the deployment will mean for the family is really important. Chances are they will have lots of questions for the deploying parent that the parent may not be able to answer right away, and that’s ok. Just be honest with them about not knowing, but share with them what you do know (that is appropriate for them to be aware of), and keep them in the loop as you find out more information. This will help to build confidence about the situation for them. You may have one child who needs to know every little detail and another who doesn’t. What is most important is that the information is not provided to scare or worry them (they may already have fears and worries they haven’t shared with anyone and we don’t want to add to them). Be patient with your children (and with each other) because this is a process that everyone will navigate through at their own pace.
Taking time for the deploying parent to spend some quality, one-to-one, time with each child individually can help both the parent and the child and make each one feel special. It’s a good way to create a good memory for the child to hold onto throughout the deployment. Doing something fun, like taking pictures or a video, will allow the child and parent to look back at that time when they are feeling sad. This can be helpful when they are missing one another. Before the parent leaves, they will also be experiencing a host of emotions and may start to withdraw from the family unit in mental preparation for their departure. This can be a tough time for everyone and tensions may be higher than usual, this is normal. This is where patience and prior communication really pays dividends!
Discussions around what life might be like when there is a solo-parent at home juggling home, school, work, extracurricular activities, and routines are important to have. Involving the children in those discussions are good because they can feel a sense of responsibility and have their say in how things may change and how they can step up and help. Talking about and redefining responsibilities for household chores will ensure that everyone plays their part and has something they can take care of, giving them a sense of control, of being useful, and of having a focus. It will also help the solo-parent from having to take on even more! Tweens and teens are more than capable of helping out over and above their normal chores and responsibilities! Involving them allows them to feel as though they have some ownership and are a valued part of the family. Clearly setting out or reminding everyone of rules and boundaries are just as important. This is certainly not a time where you want to waver on those and you want to make sure to maintain consistency! Adolescents also need structure (although they may not agree!) and routine to help keep things organized, because chaos isn’t helpful for anyone!
Once everyone settles into the new routine after the parent has left on their deployment, there are lots of fun things that can be done on the home front to keep busy and connected with the deployed parent. If your child is a writer, or likes to be creative, one suggestion would be to have them write a blog or a deployment diary that can be shared with the deployed parent. It will allow them to be creative and expressive, to remember what they did, how they felt, and can be used as a communication tool as well. If photography tickles their fancy, a photo diary would be a great way to capture things to share with their parent too! Having each child create a Deployment Memory Box that is individual to them is another great way to be able to share their deployment journey and memories with their parent when they come home.
As the parent at home, it can also be a stressful time for you. So, making things less stressful is key! Who cares if you use paper plates once or twice a week for dinner and have take-out every Friday night? Why not have each child choose and make dinner (or make dinner together) for the family once a week? It might mean having hot dogs and Kraft Dinner, but that is one less meal that you need to cook and it will teach them a skill and give them some responsibility too! This will allow you to do something else while they are making dinner or give you a moment to take a breath. Or, maybe it will give you a moment to plan something fun to do with your adolescents that will surprise them. Keeping things routine is great; but, sometimes stepping just a little further out of the norm is great! How about planning a dinner where you break out the good china and use crystal wine glasses…dress up and make it a fancy occasion, just because you can! Your teens might think it’s silly at first, but I’d be willing to bet they will love it and it will create a great memory! Surprising them with a Box of Fun that is individualized just for them that they can open like a gift at Christmas is another way to keep things fun. It doesn’t need to cost a lot to create and certainly doesn’t need to be over the top. But, putting in a treat or two of their favorite candy, chocolate or chips, a new article of clothing, fun socks, a book, a homemade coupon for a “chore free night” that they can cash in, or a personalized note from you would be sure to put a smile on their sometimes frowny face. Schedule in movie nights where you all stay home and watch a movie together. Have them invite their friends to join in, it will make them happy and give you an opportunity to stay connected with who they are hanging out with and maybe overhear a little gossip too!
Another way to stay connected and keep busy is to sit down together to plan some day trips. Have each person choose a destination that interests them and plan the day together. Car rides are a great way to have conversations, listen to music, and let some of the stressors go for a little while. If keeping the cost down is important, pack a picnic lunch together.
It isn’t just about the absence of a parent that can be hard; it’s also the homecoming that can create a bit of an upheaval in your teen’s lives. They may have gotten used to things and have managed not too badly through the deployment, but now their parent is coming home. The homecoming can be an exciting time filled with anticipation, excitement, nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress. After all, it’s been 6 months or more since they’ve seen their parent and SO much has happened! Your adolescents have grown, physically, mentally and emotionally, and have changed. The deployed parent has also undergone changes themselves…how are we going to be able to be together again, it’s going to be weird! These are all perfectly normal feelings. It will take a little time to get to know one another again and re-establish the in-person connections. Sometimes this adjustment can take weeks or months to normalize. Having open lines of communication with your children is important, even if they don’t want to talk, giving them the opportunities to have your time and attention; you may be surprised that they start talking! If you have concerns about how your children are managing, I have listed some great resources below.
Keeping connected to your teens through a deployment is important because as hard as it might be on an adult, it is just as hard, or sometimes harder, on your adolescents. Giving them opportunities to just be themselves, talk, vent, express themselves, and have some fun is really important. Leading by example to teach them that they are strong, capable, and resilient is a skill that they will take with them everywhere they go in life. Life can be hard when you’re a teen; so, making time to stay connected, being patient, showing them how to adapt to be resilient, and teaching them life skills will hopefully help to make their sometimes dramatic teen lives a little easier and more fun, even during a deployment.
Deployment Services Coordinator – email@example.com
Prevention, Support & Intervention – firstname.lastname@example.org
Family Information Line – 24/7, bilingual – 1-800-866-4546
Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868 or Text: CONNECT to 686868
Crisis Text Line for Military Kids and Youth – Text: CAFKIDS to 686868
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Deployment Memory Box