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Two separate studies about the children of deployed military personnel with dramatically different conclusions.
January 30, 2010 4:21 PM   Subscribe

A former colonel, and lieutenant colonel team up to show that 56% of kids do well (or even VERY well) when their parents are shipped off to war (again).

Starting with a survey that went out to 34,500 soldiers and ending with a "subsample" that only had a size of 409, the authors postulate that "there is surprisingly no relationship between child deployment stress and the number of previous deployments". Another interesting part of this study shows that children whose parents have NEVER been deployed suffer much more stress than those whose parents have been deployed once, twice, or even three times. The entire report in pdf available here.

Dr. Leonard Wong who pleads the case for compulsory national service, provides fashion advice, and figures out ways to keep soldiers motivated so they keep fighting is half the writing team. The other author, Dr. Stephan Gerras, has produced a noteworty op-ed piece which passively aggressively attacks the Secretary of Defense while primarily discussing college football.


The other study published in Pediatrics, has markedly different conclusions.

"Using a sample size of 1507 demonstrated a positive association between the number of deployment months and child difficulties, suggesting that the greater total months a parent is deployed (or absent from the home), the stressers of maintaining a healthy home life increase. Children whose parents are deployed had more emotional difficulties compared with national samples."


Besides the disparate results on the same study subject, the reasoning is also contrasting. The Pediatrics-published study concludes that mental health support to the children and caregiver at home may be beneficial. The War College study reasons that "parents may tend to forget or at least not realize that children often mature through hardships." "The study also showed that the best predictors of an adolescent’s overall ability to cope with a life of deployments are a strong nondeployed parent, the child’s belief that America supports the war, a strong family, and the adolescent’s belief that the deployed soldier is making a difference. Of note, the strongest predictor of an adolescent’s ability to cope with a life of deployments is the child’s perception that their deployed parent is making a difference."

The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College lets the public rate the writing and overall quality of these papers on the pages linked.
posted by hal_c_on (42 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Explain to me how a child whose parent is deployed three times-a year or more at a time-whose other parent is stretched to the breaking point by this-is NOT gonna have a harder time than one who has both parents at home?

I'll be interested in the local response to this report (I live close to Ft. Bragg) and I suspect it will be....interesting.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:27 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


The study seems a bit lackluster in some ways. They have a 1.2% response rate that may by almost automatic default preclude potential respondents that are having the most trouble and from that one is suppose to draw reasonable responses? Add to that, potential bias in the study designers/implementers and I'd have to take it with an awful big grain of salt.

Mind you I'm open to be convinced otherwise but from initial blush it seems kinda junky.
posted by edgeways at 4:29 PM on January 30, 2010


If 56% are doing well or very well, that means 44% don't handle deployment well. That's a lot of kids.
posted by aspo at 4:31 PM on January 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


...that means 44% don't handle deployment well. That's a lot of kids.

So an entire generation of military kids are growing up developmentally stunted and with behavioral problems? Well, there are casualties in war, you know. I'm sure all the good godfearing Republicans who supported the war appreciate their sacrifice (which the kids didn't ask for or even want).
posted by Avenger at 4:37 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having grown up in a Navy town, I can see the upside of some of those dads not being around.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:40 PM on January 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


I wonder how long it'll take for this to be picked up in talking points. "Support the troops!" + "Think of the children!" = if you aren't behind the war effort, you hate America -- and future America!
posted by luftmensch at 4:43 PM on January 30, 2010


Military not traumatizing children, military says.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 4:53 PM on January 30, 2010 [17 favorites]


Good news, everybody! Shipping a parent off to war results in a 50/50 chance that your kid will do well!
posted by DU at 4:57 PM on January 30, 2010


A former colonel, and lieutenant colonel team up to show that 56% of kids do well (or even VERY well) when their parents are shipped off to war (again).

That's not actually what the study or even the CNN article says. What is says is that 56% of adolescents self-report that they coped "well" or "very well" with deployments - a fact that the authors call 'surprising' and which contrasts with parental reporting on coping levels which were much more pessimistic. In fact, if you read the report it agrees with the Rand study that children experience deployment stress (and discusses various coping mechanisms) - the only surprising part it reports is that levels of deployment stress don't appear to correlate to multiple deployments, which, as a former Navy brat and current service member, I can understand. Children are pretty resilient and as they see Mom or Dad deploy and come home multiple times, it becomes commonplace. Navy families have coped with multiple deployments forever (on sea duty the pre-9/11 cycle was six months out, 1 year back, these days it varies more) and while Army deployments aren't exactly the same (higher risk, longer cycle time) there's still a tendency to settle into routines. Plus, kids who are Army adolescents now (the study age range was 11 - 17) were 2 - 8 when 9/11 occurred so it really has been a way of life for them.

I'm not arguing that deployment stress on kids (and spouses) isn't a real thing but neither are the authors of the War College study and I found the way this was presented to be pretty disingenuous.
posted by macfly at 4:58 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


This would have been a much better FPP without the barely-between-the-lines editorializing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:03 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Macfly is right. The CNN article manages to misinterpret the quotations it uses, and hal_c_on's presentation is itself misleading.
posted by vitia at 5:12 PM on January 30, 2010


(hal_c_on's cheap shot at Wong about "fashion" clearly fails to RTFA, as the opening and closing comments about higher-ranking officers' shoddy wardrobes is used as a framing metaphor for the critique of single-mindedness in some aspects of Army culture.)
posted by vitia at 5:17 PM on January 30, 2010


Macfly,

Check out figure 6 in the report which uses the 409 subsamples:

If the parent has not been deployed, the child shows .45(around there) higher stress
If the parent has been deployed once, the child shows "average stress" at 0.
If the parent has been deployed twice, the child shows even less than if they were deployed once.
If the parent has been deployed three times, the child shows even less than if they were deployed twice.

And they don't talk about 4 or 5 times...which have significantly fewer respondents...but WAY higher stress levels.

How does any of THAT make sense?
posted by hal_c_on at 5:20 PM on January 30, 2010


I sent out a survey to everyone that had ever been decapitated and no one reported ANY ill effects!

Seriously? 34,500 surveys sent. 409 responses from self-evaluating adolescents? And they ran with that? I think I understand why all the psy ops stuff we did in Iraq didn't convince the Iraqis to throw flowers at our boys.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:22 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't get much out of a bunch of abstracts.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:25 PM on January 30, 2010


Again, hal_c_on, maybe you should read the stuff you link to. Kids who are "newbies" with parents' deployments stress more. Families who start to learn to deal with what happens stress less. But take parents away too many times, for too long, with the increased likelihood of PTSD in returners, and of course it gets worse.
posted by vitia at 5:27 PM on January 30, 2010


The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College lets the public rate the writing and overall quality of these papers on the pages linked.

If you would like to me to do so, all you have to do is ask.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:28 PM on January 30, 2010


Two words: selection bias
posted by smcameron at 5:32 PM on January 30, 2010


Again, hal_c_on, maybe you should read the stuff you link to. Kids who are "newbies" with parents' deployments stress more.

That sounds totally logical, but thats not what the report says. As figure 6 would show you, kids who are newbies to deployment stress LESS than those who have not had someone deployed.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:32 PM on January 30, 2010


How about a control group for kids from non-military families? I could see the constant fear of possible deployment, even if the parent never actually ships out, having an effect.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 5:43 PM on January 30, 2010


How does any of THAT make sense?

I dunno - it's self reported by adolescents, who may or may not be the best judge of their own stress level? Because once you've gone through 3 deployment (over, probably 5 or so years) and you're 15, it's the only way of life you've ever known so your stress level doesn't increase a whole lot when Mom or Dad deploys again whereas if Mom or Dad has never deployed it's a great big unknown and freaks you out? The authors of the study don't seem to have an answer for it (tellingly the line right under the figure is a question: "Why would soldiers perceive a cumulative effect of deployments while adolescents report a trend of decreasing stress with each deployment?")

The study doesn't say "Adolescents experience less stress with more deployments - yay!" The study says "Adolescents self-report less stress with more deployments - weird!"

It's also a relatively small part of the overall study (which confirms what all study's of this type find, which is that deployment is stressful and that there are some things which can help make it less so but nothing works for everyone and yeah, it suck rocks for a lot of kids).
posted by macfly at 5:44 PM on January 30, 2010


"Number of previous deployments: none" = average stress of ~0.44 in the figure. "Number of previous deployments: One" = average stress of ~0.02 in the figure.

Learn to read a graph.
posted by vitia at 5:44 PM on January 30, 2010


How does any of THAT make sense?

"Stress" tends to describe a crisis response. Absence of self-reported stress doesn't mean absence of neurotic coping mechanisms. The results may be unexpected, but they're not nonsensical.
posted by regicide is good for you at 5:51 PM on January 30, 2010


so, how do they do when daddy/mommy comes home in a box?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:52 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


We are fighting for Future America? So, Future America has been pulling the strings all this time? Then why shouldn't we developmentally stunt the children, look at what they are making us do!
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:55 PM on January 30, 2010


The study doesn't say "Adolescents experience less stress with more deployments - yay!" The study says "Adolescents self-report less stress with more deployments - weird!"

You're right. But why even include that as part of a study thereby legitmizing the statistic?


Thats like saying "88% of people* believes that prisoners should get less harsh punishments.

*Violent offenders at San Quentin."
posted by hal_c_on at 5:57 PM on January 30, 2010


If the parent has not been deployed, the child shows .45(around there) higher stress

If the parent had not been deployed previously. That is, if the deployment in question is the first deployment. It makes sense that this would be a high-stress situation.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:03 PM on January 30, 2010


As figure 6 would show you, kids who are newbies to deployment stress LESS than those who have not had someone deployed.

Yeah, you're totally misreading that figure. In your defense, the resolution in the PDF is crap.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:06 PM on January 30, 2010


*puts on Navy glasses and comments on article that still strikes him as odd being included in the link*

Actually, that "fashion" one by Dr. Wong is quite good in my experiences. Especially in the Navy, if you deviate from either doing your main community job or training in it on shore, you'll be hammered more often than not when it comes to promotions and jobs. Fewer O-4's, O-5's, and O-6's ever go to grad school, even when it's a rather nice option. If a pilot is using his shore tour to teach English over at the Naval Academy as opposed to teaching flight down in Florida, he might as well be signing his resignation papers a few years down the road. It's a horrible mindset that creates a focus so narrow as to deprive diversity of thought, but sadly it's somewhat entrenched. And entrenched systems not only perpetuate themselves, but they get others that want to be part of the system to perpetuate for them.

Okay, now that I've commented on that article, back to this whole deployment stress thingy . . .
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:09 PM on January 30, 2010


Oh, I see: there's a lack of knowledge as to what the word "previous" means when taken in conjunction with the concept of "deployment." Hence hal_c_on's confusion.
posted by vitia at 6:10 PM on January 30, 2010


The study doesn't say "Adolescents experience less stress with more deployments - yay!" The study says "Adolescents self-report less stress with more deployments - weird!"

You're right. But why even include that as part of a study thereby legitmizing the statistic?


You think that because the study didn't confirm their expectations they should have thrown out the data? I'm not an expert or anything but that seems like pretty crappy science. Your analogy about prisoners doesn't really work for me because it doesn't appear that the adolescents had anything to gain by reporting lower stress levels. It's not self serving, it's just weird.

Just because it's weird doesn't mean it's not important - maybe the fact that adolescents don't perceive themselves are being stressed out means that the Army should create different programs for the children of deployed parents. Maybe the fact that the deployed parents think their kids are more stressed than they actually are means that the Army needs figure out how to help parents evaluate kid's stress levels better. Maybe the speculation that kids who are gamers experience less stress means that the Army should buy every Army brat an X-box.

I think studies like this are important because military families really do face challenges that most civilian families don't but maybe the biggest challenges aren't what we've always assume they are.
posted by macfly at 6:12 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


As someone who has been deployed in the Navy, I can say that the time where you know you'll be deployed but haven't gone yet is rather stressful. I don't even have family, and it get's to you as you try to put all your affairs in order, you see your friends for the last time before disappear for over half a year, you call all the people you know and tell them to send you letters . . . It gnaws on you. Once you get underway, the stress goes down some as people start kicking into gear. I can imagine that the next time I get deployed, it's going to be at least a less stressful experience if not a pleasant one.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:13 PM on January 30, 2010


And entrenched systems not only perpetuate themselves, but they get others that want to be part of the system to perpetuate for them.

Oh god, yes. For the longest time I had the following quote from "Ender's Shadow" (Orson Scott Card) up on my board at work:

They were career military, all of them. Proven officers with real ability. But in the military you don't get trusted positions just because of your ability. You also have to attract the notice of superior officers. You have to be liked. You have to fit in with the system. You have to look like what the officers above you think that officers should look like. You have to think in ways that they are comfortable with.

The result was that you ended up with a command structure that was top-heavy with guys who looked good in uniform and talked right and did well enough not to embarrass themselves, while the really good ones quietly did all the serious work and bailed out their superiors and got blamed for errors they had advised against until they eventually got out.


As someone who's taking the road less traveled through the Navy, I can assure you this is as true as it's ever been.
posted by macfly at 6:21 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, I see: there's a lack of knowledge as to what the word "previous" means when taken in conjunction with the concept of "deployment." Hence hal_c_on's confusion.
Dammit. You're right. Thanks for the heads-up...in a metafilter kind of way.

You think that because the study didn't confirm their expectations they should have thrown out the data? I'm not an expert or anything but that seems like pretty crappy science.
Ha, thats something we can agree on! But then why do you not think this paper is written on some pretty crappy science?

They surveyed 34,500 soldiers who had a child between the ages of 11-17. Out of that, only 2006 responded. Out of the 2006 soldiers all of whom had a child, they used only 409 children (mind you, one soldier can have multiple children). So lets be clear, out of 34,500 potential respondents, they are basing the results on 409 children.

Do you think there may be an element of selection bias here?

Why do you agree with this Army funded study when the other one is conducted by an independent 3rd party, has a lot more respondents, and has way less of a selection bias?

Oh I forgot...its because you agree with the results based on your personal, anecdotal experience. Thats the crappiest science of all.

What bothers me about this isn't the science which anyone can see through, its the fact that the Army study doesn't prescribe any help to these people except "a strong nondeployed parent, the child’s belief that America supports the war, a strong family, and the adolescent’s belief that the deployed soldier is making a difference." Great.

So if a kid is having trouble because mom or dad is at war in some distant country...its the family or kid's fault for not being strong enough or believing in America. Great study.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:10 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


hal_c_on, I think it's a bit disingenuous of you to be accusing the study of having some sort of ulterior motive when it's pretty clear from the heavyhanded presentation and subsequent comments that you have a pretty serious axe to grind, or at least a conclusion — and action, in the form of your wink-wink-nudge-nudge throwaway sentence at the end — that you're trying to lead everyone to.

Granted, CNN did a crummy job of pullquoting for maximum effect, and that's never a good way to read findings reports, but I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill here.

They performed a study, they expected one thing, and — yes, with admittedly limited data — they got a very different one. At the very least it's an interesting result, and perhaps other researchers will decide to look at it in greater detail, using a more robust methodology. It wouldn't totally surprise me if someone did a literature review and discovered that self-reporting adolescents significantly underestimate their own stress symptoms, or overestimate their own mental health, versus other study methods. However, knowing that adolescents don't recognize themselves as being stressed might lead to different mitigation approaches — someone who doesn't think they're having a problem might not react well to an obvious assumption that they are.

As for "legitimizing" the result by publishing it, I doubt that was their concern, as it shouldn't be. Their methodology is disclosed, other researchers can decide what weight they want to assign to the findings. And if your concern is the general public, I think that's especially not their concern, since the alternative — self-censorship based on what the public might misinterpret a result to mean? — seems far worse, and far more prone to bias.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:44 PM on January 30, 2010


kadin,

You're right. This isn't the best of blue. I still have a lot to work on when i make a metafilter post. Totally.

But, this study was made AFTER the other study was done and published. The purpose of the Army study is to obliterate the one that said "maybe people need professional help". It just got me angry...and perhaps this isn't the best place to do that.

Yeah, totally not done correctly, you're right. I'll work on that. Thanks for the constructive criticism. I do appreciate it. I'm done. I wish I didn't post on here after the initial post.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:47 PM on January 30, 2010


Thread-sitting much?
posted by rodgerd at 9:48 PM on January 30, 2010


Why do you agree with this Army funded study when the other one is conducted by an independent 3rd party, has a lot more respondents, and has way less of a selection bias?

Because the two studies don't disagree. I don't understand what you're arguing about here - both studies find that the families of deployed service members undergo stress. The army study looked at things that correlate with less or more deployment stress. The RAND study just compared stress levels of children of deployed service members to stress levels of the population in general. I didn't see anything in the RAND study that prescribed solutions either. For that matter, the participants in the RAND study all came from children who attended a camp aimed at helping children of deployed service members "deal with the stress of war" - that seems like their pool might tend to be more stressed than the average child.

Oh I forgot...its because you agree with the results based on your personal, anecdotal experience. Thats the crappiest science of all.

So a study on the children of deployed service members has findings that correlate to my experience as a child of a deployed service member and I should therefore assume that the study is false? I'm not saying "this was my experience so every child's experience is the same as mine." I'm saying "this thing that you find surprising about the study corresponds to my experience so I don't find it surprising and this is why."

I don't think either study was aiming for figuring out the 'solution' to the problem of deployment stress - I don't think that there is any one answer to deployment stress. Many children will have a hard time because Mom or Dad deployed a bunch when they were kids. Some kids will have an easier time of it. There's never going to be a magic pill people can take that's going to make having a parent deployed be a perfect experience - on the other hand, if knowing that kids, on average, do better if they're active in sports and when they believe that their deployed parent is making a difference can help some families better cope with the situation, well, that seems valuable to me.
posted by macfly at 9:54 PM on January 30, 2010


Two-parent families aren't all that great either. Children don't "need two parents", they do best as members of a community which includes supportive adults: an extended family, for example. Humans are pack mammals.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:43 AM on January 31, 2010


Are teenagers different today than 30 years ago? I ask honestly, because I'm puzzled. Could be my own bias. But when I was a teenager, the news that Dad (especially dad) was going away for a few months would have been a huge stress reducer. I would think this would generally be the case for adolescent males, who are at an age when they don't exactly appreciate supervision.

I am totally unable to see into this from outside my own bias. When I was 14-15 years old, nothing was more stressful than having my father at home. But thanks, Dad, this drove me to hiding in my room, reading books. Bwahahaha. (dear old dad, who unknowingly bought me a book that, hidden in the story, was a rich lesson in civil disobedience. "Freedom: I won't!")
posted by Goofyy at 10:26 AM on January 31, 2010


This is good news for all the dads who just abandoned their kids, too. See? You can totally walk out on your family and there's still a better than 50% chance that your kid will do just fine!
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:43 PM on January 31, 2010


As someone whose husband is deploying for twelve months later in the year, and the mother of a five year old, I may have some first hand experience of this.

The run up can be stressful - in our situation the dates keep being brought forward - only today I found out my husband is leaving seven months earlier than we thought. But one thing I have seen over and over and over again is that an assumption that everyone will not cope/be stressed (children and spouses) often breeds the stress - telling people they won't cope can make them more likely to feel they won't cope. Which is why studies like this can be very important - what we assume to be common sense (kids won't cope when their parents are deployed) may not be the case, and we need to know if kids stress, which kids are more likely to stress, what mechanisms can help children, what can we do to reassure parents who are deploying etc. etc.

We are not worried about our son not coping - we have a lot of support through the school, friends, community, and having a pretty switched on kid. But who really knows. And while studies like this may not fit with someone's political bias (all war is evil, a study that says deploying parents doesn't damage kids must be rigged) try thinking of how it might be of benefit to the children in question.

Note - I am a lefty, pinko, tree-hugger, and I am all for honesty about the brutality and waste of armed conflict. But I also know that it is going on, and will continue to go on, and studies like this can be a huge benefit to the families of deployed personnel.
posted by Megami at 12:46 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


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