WASHINGTON – At a time when the U.S. military has the highest number of parents among its active-duty service members and is engaged in the longest sustained military conflict in history, in Iraq and Afghanistan, research is showing that the strain on military families is being felt acutely by even its youngest members, children younger than 6.
Young children can exhibit the same anxiety, depression, stress and aggression that some older children and adults experience after living with multiple deployments, long separations and often tense and awkward reunifications with parents returning from war, particularly when the parent has been physically or mentally traumatized.
A report released today by Child Trends, a nonprofit research center, found that war can take a steep and potentially long-lasting toll during a child’s critical early years, when the brain is growing rapidly and children are developing a sense of trust in the world.
We’re concerned that children exposed to stressful events, particularly traumatic stressful events, will have difficulty learning to cope with emotions, to do well socially and academically, and even have problems with their physical health, said David Murphey, Child Trends researcher and report author.
As these younger children grow up, we can expect there will be at least a subset of them that will face very substantial problems, Murphey said.
Unlike during the Vietnam War, when only 15 percent of active-duty military were parents and most of them were men, today nearly half of all active-duty service members have children, and 14 percent of those service members are single parents. Mothers make up 16 percent of the active-duty force.
Two million children younger than 18 have an active-duty parent, and 500,000 of those children are younger than 6.