War impacts children in military families

December 1, 2015

Children of parents who are serving in the military during periods when the United States is at war are at higher risk of harmful behaviors than their peers from nonmilitary families.

Children of parents who are serving in the military during periods when the United States is at war are at higher risk of harmful behaviors than their peers from nonmilitary families. An analysis of data related to almost 700,000 secondary school children (the 2013 California Healthy Kids Survey) showed that although most children connected with the military are resilient, they are on average 50% more likely than their civilian peers to have used substances recently or during their lifetime, whether alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription medications, or other drugs. Likewise, being a military-connected adolescent raised the odds of undergoing violence, experiencing nonphysical harassment, and carrying a weapon, all while at school, by an average of 47%, 42%, and 90%, respectively.

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Specifically, 45.2% of children from military families, whether or not their parents were deployed, reported lifetime alcohol use compared with 39.2% of their nonmilitary peers. For recent smoking, the comparable figures were 12.2% versus 8.4% and for reporting physical violence 62.5% versus 51.6%. About 17.7% of military students reported carrying a weapon at school compared with 9.9% of their peers (Sullivan K, et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169[10]:922-928).

Commentary: It is probably no surprise to you that children of military families bear a unique burden when we are at war. However were you surprised to read that 17.7% of these students self-report that they have carried a weapon to school? I was. The authors report that there are currently 2 million children of active military or reserves. Some of these children likely are in your practice. They may warrant a careful social history to see how they are holding up.

Ms Freedman is a freelance medical editor and writer in New Jersey. Dr Burke, section editor for Journal Club, is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. The editors have nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that may have an interest in any part of this article.