Military Families: School transition and deployment increase social isolation and weapon carrying by kids


The mental health community has devoted considerable attention to the effect of deployment(s) on members of the military service. Not enough attention has been given to the effects of deployment on other family members.

The California Department of Education conducts an annual study called the California Health Kids Survey. The study attempts to monitor youth risk, behavior and resilience to stress. There is an optional military module in the study protocol. This module attempts to compare similarities and differences between students from military and nonmilitary families. The latest analysis focused on a sample of 14,512 students in grades 7, 9 and 11 who attend schools in six military-connected school districts in Southern California.

There have been several important discoveries about children from military families. One is the fact of having to change schools when a parent is sent to a new duty post. Add to that the stress of knowing that a parent is in harm’s way. The study found that transitioning into new schools and coping through a parent’s wartime deployment increases two major risk factors. Military children are victimized more frequently by other students. Additionally, the study found that military family children are more likely to carry a weapon to school than kids from non-military families.

Dr. Tamika D. Gilreath, the lead author of the study said, “Such relocations cause youth to lose important social supports and networks. Additionally, for military-connected youth, these moves may also coincide with deployment cycles whereby they lose the support of one of their parents.”

Only a small percentage of students reported carrying either a gun or a knife to school, however, the percentage of students with a parent in the military who reported bringing a gun to school was double that of nonmilitary students. Those who carried a firearm or knife to school was 8.3% for the military family kids compared to 3.6% for kids from non-military families.

There were other interesting findings when the military family kids were divided into those who had a parent with no combat zone deployments with those whose parent had been deployed one, two or more times. The children whose parent had not been deployed had significantly lower rates of bringing a gun to school. 2.8% of children whose parent had never been deployed, in contrast to 5.6% whose parent had been deployed.

There is no indication of increased weapon use by these children when compared with others. The fact they are going to school armed is apparently more a function of fear and desire for self-protection. They are more likely to be bullied or otherwise picked on, including being ostracized. Also, carrying a weapon may have different meaning to a child from a military family than from a non-military family.

More study is needed to address these issues. The study does make clear the need for more social and administrative support for children coming from military families.

When I learned of this study via one of my newsfeeds, the first thing that came to mind was the zero tolerance rules in school. If any of these kids are caught with a weapon, they will be expelled and most likely arrested. The study shows they are not likely to use them, and appear to be carrying out of fear.  Thus, rather than schools being proactive about such issues, they tend to be reactive. We have seen far too many instances of bureaucratic rigidity when it comes to real, or even imaginary threats.

Now, imagine you are the parent of one of these kids. Half a world away, in a combat zone, and your spouse is having to deal with the reality of your scared and troubled kid locked up in jail…because daddy or mommy is overseas at risk of never coming home again, or if they do, might be horribly wounded.

Our whole mental health system in this country is broken. Don’t believe it? Pick up the phone and try to find a child psychologist or psychiatrist who takes insurance.

A few years ago, after the Columbine shootings in Colorado, both the FBI and Secret Service behavioral specialist teams published special white papers. They were designed to give guidance to school psychologists and administrators for identifying and dealing appropriately with violence threats in schools. I made copies of those papers as soon as they were published.  I approached several public school administrators, going as high as the superintendent and school board members. I offered my services free of charge to conduct training seminars based on those publications and my own experience.  The response? Well, first of all, none of the people I spoke with even knew these white papers existed. Then I got a polite, “We will discuss it and get back to you.”

That was more than ten years ago. I am still waiting for one of the schools to call me back.

Source: Imperial Valley News

About Chuck Stanley

Dr. Charlton (Chuck) Stanley is a board certified forensic psychologist, with interests in aviation psychology, peace officer selection and training, ethics and communication skills.
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7 Responses to Military Families: School transition and deployment increase social isolation and weapon carrying by kids

  1. pdm says:

    …there is no end to the misery endured by military families…

    Is there any hope that we are close to giving a war and nobody will come?

  2. pete9999 says:

    O S

    I usually carried a boy scout knife, but never as a weapon. Although I found a history/social studies book could be your best friend. (it was almost always the largest textbook)

    You never really get used to always being the new kid, but being in school near a base there were generally other military families around. Oddly enough there was one kid that I knew from several grades in three different states.

  3. I read a story last year of a grade school kid being either suspended or expelled for bringing a knife to school. His mother had packed one of those plastic disposable picnic knives in his lunch so he could spread his peanut butter and jelly on bread. I saw a picture of the knife. Little white plastic table knife about four inches long. Exactly like we use at the jail and regional prison. But the kid got in trouble for having one at school. Go figure.

  4. bigfatmike says:

    ” Little white plastic table knife about four inches long. Exactly like we use at the jail and regional prison. But the kid got in trouble for having one at school. Go figure.”:

    I figure the trouble was likely the result of an imbecilic ‘zero tolerance policy’. Fortunately even the administration is beginning to demand a reappraisal of ‘zero tolerance’ policies that have done so much damage to so many children over the past couple of decades.

  5. pete9999 says:

    good thing he didn’t glue a spoon to one end at a 90 degree angle. it might be a gun

  6. I don’t know of a single child psychologist/psychiatrist who accepts insurance, and most are so busy, they aren’t accepting new patients.

  7. Joy of Fishes says:

    Sharing with some folks I know, TY, Chuck.

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