A parent’s military deployment affects the children, no matter what age they are, including teenagers. And it’s often up to the remaining parent to deal with the fallout. Here are some helpful tips for helping teens cope.
- Talk it Out
Once you know there is an upcoming deployment, sit down as a family and discuss how your teen feels. If your teen doesn’t want to open up, that’s okay. You can do the talking. Discuss how things may change when the other parent deploys, such as a shift in responsibilities or a change in a certain routine. Be ready to listen if your teen voices concerns or fears.
- Plan Ahead
Before a parent deploys, it’s important that he or she spends some quality time with the children. Don’t leave this up to chance. Plan ahead and make sure your teen has time — even if it’s just a few hours — with his parent before the deployment occurs.
- Give Your Teen Something to Hold On to
Before the other parent deploys, try to figure out something he or she can give your teen to hold on to, as a form of comfort. It could be a letter, a picture or an item that has special significance, such as a family heirloom.
- Check in Periodically
During downtimes, try to get a conversation going with your teen with the goal of getting him to share how he is feeling. Do more listening than talking. Don’t be offended if your teen doesn’t want to talk or share feelings. But do keep trying every now and again.
- Reach Out to Others
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other people who are close to or interact regularly with your teen, such as teachers, coaches or even a school counselor. Explain a parent has been deployed and ask them to let you know of any signs they might notice that would indicate your child is struggling.
- Keep Routines in Play
Just because one parent is gone doesn’t mean that you should change up routines. Instead, you should strive to keep the routines as stable as you possibly can. Believe it or not, a teenager can find comfort in keeping her routines.
- Enable Communication
Make communication between your teen and the parent who is deployed as easy as possible. Consider email, texting, phone calls and video chatting as ways to help your teen stay connected. Try to be as flexible as possible. If getting to talk to a parent who is dearly missed means your teen will have to go to be an hour later on occasion, so be it.
Always be willing to listen to your teen, no matter what. If you seem like you don’t have time to listen or talk, then your teen may turn away from you. Even if your teen just wants to have a light conversation, tune in. Don’t try to turn every conversation into a counseling session.
- Validate Their Feelings
A teen who is stressed and anxious can feel a wide range of emotions, and it’s your job as the parent to help your teen realize that the emotions are a normal response to the situation. You can share your own feelings about the deployment to help your teen gain a different perspective.
- Keep Things in Perspective
If your teenager is struggling with a parent’s deployment, it’s probably unwise to share every piece of information you have about military actions that may be occurring. If your teen reads or watches the news, he may have questions for you. Choose your words carefully, and try to keep him from latching on to information that has a negative spin.
- Share Tips for Handling Stress
Think about the ways that you deal with stress — also known as your coping mechanisms — and make some suggestions to your teenager. Journaling can be a good outlet to help relieve stress and anxiety. If your teen enjoys drawing or painting, that can serve as another good way to relieve stress. Exercising and listening to music can also be helpful.
- Make Sure Your Teen Knows She’s Not Alone
Look into military youth programs for teens who are struggling with and feeling anxious about their parent’s deployment. You can also help your teen connect with a counselor. “Talk therapy can be extremely helpful in helping a teen “re-pattern” his or her thoughts, transitioning from anxious thoughts to new, healthy, and productive thinking,” according to Paridigm Malibu, a center that offers teen anxiety treatment.