Military life can be hard on the entire family unit. But it can be especially difficult for military teens who understand the complexities of moving and really feel the stress of constant changes in cities, schools, and social life.
Military teens worry — a lot. While it’s already challenging for them to uproot their life every few years, it’s even harder when a parent gets deployed. Teens may worry about the safety of their deployed parent, feel the need to “pick up the slack” in the absence of a two-parent household, take on sibling childcare, and other adult responsibilities.
But parent deployment isn’t the only thing that worries military teens. A 2021 survey from the National Military Family Association and Bloom: Empowering the Military Teen, an organization founded and fueled by teens, found that “42% of military teens show signs of emotional distress.” And when it comes to the types of stressors they’re feeling, “36% of respondents [expressed] concerns about food insecurity.”
Today’s military kids and teens deal with a lot, and they need to talk about it. If you’re a military parent, here are 5 signs of military teenage mental health struggles and resources to get your teen help.
1. Military Teens Losing Interest in Their Social Life
One of the top signs of a teenage mental health struggle is when they become disinterested in maintaining a social life. This can appear in a variety of ways such as:
- Poor grades
- Truancy or not showing up to school
- Disconnecting from friend groups to spend time alone
Outside of school:
- Not participating in extracurricular activities they once liked
- Opting to stay home instead of spending time with friends when invited out
2. Feeling Angry, Sad, or Apathetic
Military parenting is hard enough, so if you notice your teen is showing emotions that seem out of the ordinary, it can be a sign that they’re struggling. Some examples include:
Feelings of anger: These can occur spontaneously and last in bursts or continue for days or even weeks. Keep an eye out for increased confrontation with authority figures (like parents and teachers), peers, and even siblings.
Feelings of sadness: A big red flag that your teen is struggling is if your otherwise happy son or daughter begins to appear sad frequently. If this persists, it can be a sign of depression or other more serious teenage mental health struggles.
Feelings of apathy: Similar to losing interest in building a social life, teens who begin to feel apathetic towards life lose their joy and interest in things they once liked. They may feel indifferent towards old hobbies and instead spend time alone.
3. Sleeping More Often
Growing up is hard work, so it’s no surprise that many military teens love their sleep. But teenagers typically need 8-10 hours of sleep per night. If you notice your teenager would rather spend their extra time sleeping instead of socializing, doing homework, or working, it could be a sign that they're struggling with something else.
4. Changing Eating Habits
Just like sleep, many growing teens also love their food. But changes in eating habits can be a warning sign that something is wrong. Keep an eye out for changes in your teen’s eating habits such as:
- Increase in appetite
- Decrease in appetite
- Binge eating
- Skipping meals
- Emotional eating (eating to cope with difficult emotions)
5. Increasing Worry
Military teens do not live conventional lives and experience many stressors that civilian teenagers don't. If you notice your son or daughter is worrying to the point that it is affecting their day-to-day life, then it may be time to get them professional help. Increased fears for military teens can revolve around but aren't limited to:
- Coping with an upcoming PCS move
- The potential for instability
- Starting another new school
- Leaving friends behind
- Food insecurity
- Falling behind in school
- Parental deployment
- Taking on adult responsibilities in the absence of a deployed parent
- And so much more…
For Parents: Resources for Military Teens and Their Mental Health
If your teenager is experiencing what you believe to be mental health struggles, the best thing you can do for them is get them professional help. Whether it’s a medical doctor or military and family life counseling, which is non-medical counseling, there are many options available for mental healthcare.
The Armed Services YMCA realizes that military children of all ages face unique challenges. That’s why we’ve been supporting our military for 160 years with free or low-cost services that strengthen military families, including youth development and educational programs, childcare, and resources to make mental health services more accessible for military parents and their families.
Our military families sacrifice so much for our country. Now is the time to help support them in return. You can do that through the Armed Services YMCA by helping us continue to provide our services at low to no cost. Please consider giving today.