Helping Your Teen Deal With the Deployment of a Parent

Posted by Janet Heinsler on March 06, 2015

Parenting today can be a challenge for most parents. When one or both of the parents are in the military this challenge may become even harder. I would like to discuss some ways you can help your teen deal with the deployment of your spouse. This deployment may be exceptionally hard on the teens in your family because they are already going through their own physiological and emotional changes. Although this time can be difficult for the teen, if handled properly it could be a chance for your teen to grow. I will look at the deployment in terms of three categories, two will be covered in this article.
Before  Deployment

Family Meeting. Once the date for employment is settled, the family should sit down and talk about what this means for everyone involved. For the teens this might mean that they have to take on some extra responsibility. You should make it clear that it is not extra chores that you are assigning but more responsibility. Make sure you give your teen the chance to ask all the questions they have concerning this. They may ask some of the following questions:

  • Can I still drive?
  • Will there be enough money?
  • How will I get to football practice?
  • What will happen to us if you don’t come back?
  • What will be my responsibilities?
  • How will I talk to you when you are gone?
  • What if I don’t like it?

Share Feelings. It is important that you encourage your teen to discuss with you their feelings about your deployment; no matter how busy you are you need to make the time to do this.
Share Keepsakes. Tell your teen that you would like to exchange some personal things before you leave so the two of you will have something to hang onto while you are part. This can be one or two items or if you want you can make a small keepsake box with pictures, notes and whatever else you hold near and dear to your heart. Exchange them before you deploy.
Share Time. You no doubt will be busy before you have to go but make sure you pencil in some one-on-one time with them. Go out to lunch, shopping or perhaps a ballgame. If these activities are not feasible in the time before deployment, make a special movie night with just the two of you. Let them pick a movie they have been dying to see and pop up some popcorn.

School Counselor. Get to know who their school counselor is and apprise them of the situation. Use them as a resource person while you are gone to help determine how your teen is handing everything.

During Deployment
The teen’s feelings and behavior may vary widely while your spouse is deployed but there are some things you can do to lessen the impact on them.

Communication. Make it as easy as possible for your teen to communicate with the parent that is deployed. Some suggestions are texting, cell phones, email, and video chats. Some parents who are deployed may, when feasible, play games with their child online.
Keep Structure. Just because one of the parents is not at home does not mean that you should change the structure of the household. Try and keep things as much as possible as they were before the parent deployed. Structure will help to decrease any stress they may be experiencing.

Teenagers’ Frame of Reference. When you talk to your child let them steer the conversation in the direction they want. Try and answer their questions openly and honestly. Keep the talk about the deployment appropriate for the teen without getting into too much of the day to day things that may be going on for the parent who is away.

Make Suggestions to Deal with Emotions. Not only is your teen going through all the ups and downs associated with being a teen, but they have the added emotional baggage of their parent being deployed. You may want to suggest some of the following ways they may help manage their feelings and emotions.

  • Become a writer of poems or stories
  • Keep a journal
  • Exercise
  • Get creative with arts or crafts
  • Listen to music
  • Get involved in a support group
  • Learn Yoga or some other type of meditation
  • See a counselor

List Resources. Keep a list of resources available so that if your child needs someone to talk to the numbers are readily available. They are more likely to reach out to these resources if they are available.