Frequent transitions, parental separations and the cumulative effects of multiple deployments can negatively impact military youth, research shows. Military youth are generally resilient, but many are coping with increased levels of anxiety, stress, depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation and behavioral problems.
“We all have to learn how to teach military youth coping skills, how to recognize signs of psychological distress and how to get help,” psychologist Kelly Blasko of the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) said in a webinar sponsored by the Defense Health Agency. Blasko led focus groups whose feedback helped T2 create a website for military kids called Military Kids Connect (MKC).
Today, the MKC website has received more than a quarter million hits since its launch in January 2012. The website addresses challenges of transitions, deployment and reintegration with home and family.
Since children use interactive technology in their daily lives, it makes sense to reach them through this means of communication, Blasko said.
Teen and tween avatars in camouflage gear share tips on coping with deployments, siblings or moving. Teen-created videos offer introductions to new military bases. Among the specific offerings are “Crossroads,” instructional vignettes that help kids deal with dilemmas and make better choices, and “What's On Your Mind,” a message board where teens can talk with each other about issues they may face.
The site isn’t just for kids, though, Blasko said.
“As parents, providers and educators, we need to attend to these youth early on, so that we can prevent further psychological distress,” she said. “There are different tracks that offer teens, children, educators and parents tools and lesson plans.”
The site is important because mental disorders often begin in adolescence.
“We have the opportunity to intervene so that they get the help that they need,” Blasko said.