Teens Face Own Battles When Parent Goes to War

Boys at risk of substance abuse, girls more likely to become depressed, researchers say

FRIDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- Teenage boys who have a parent serving in the military are more likely than civilians' children to binge drink, use drugs and perform poorly in school, a new study suggests.

When a parent goes to war, teenagers' well-being is threatened, and boys may be more at risk than girls, researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health reported.

"There is a lot of research about veterans and active-duty soldiers, and how they cope or struggle when they return from a deployment," study author Sarah C. Reed said in a university news release. "Those studies hit the tip of the iceberg of how families are coping and how their children are doing."

In 2007, nearly 2 million children in the United States had at least one parent serving in the military. Earlier research has found that teens' healthy development, including identifying a sense of self, can be interrupted during a parent's active military service.

Media portrayals of combat and the need to take on additional responsibilities may further affect their ability to cope, the researchers said.

In conducting this study, published online in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers compiled survey data on more than 10,000 teens in 8th, 10th and 12th grades.

They found that 8th grade girls with parents deployed to combat were at risk for depression and suicidal thoughts. Meanwhile, teenage boys in all three grades were more likely to have low quality of life, abuse drugs and alcohol and struggle academically.

"We have to figure out more of what's going on within families and with children, and what's going to be helpful to mitigate the difficult things -- including risky behaviors by adolescents -- that are happening in families," said Reed.

One way to reach the troubled teens of military parents would be to strengthen and streamline support groups targeting this high-risk population, the study concluded.

The researchers said they are working on a follow-up study examining school-based fighting, weapons possession and gang membership among teens who have a deployed parent.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more information on how to support military children and teens.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, July 21, 2011

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