By Matthew Oh, co-founder and editor of Bloom: Empowering the Military Teen
“If not for the military, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to travel to new places, meet new friends, and gain new experiences. To be a military child is truly a unique experience that I personally wouldn’t trade for anything.“Matthew Oh
The children of our U.S. service members undoubtedly live a unique life. Deployments, PCSing, and constantly making new friends are struggles that not many other people face. Consequently, there are countless organizations dedicated to helping our demographic face these trials, generously providing resources and encouragement to military brats all over the world
While the effort to support military children is certainly beneficial and much appreciated, sometimes I feel as if all of the provided resources are geared toward people younger than me. I belong to a group within the military subculture that is often overlooked: military teenagers. Everyone knows that the teenage years are…weird. Middle and high schoolers have to navigate their conflicting emotions, relationships, and ultimately, have to figure out how to become adults. Pile a deployment, PCS, or rough high school transition on top of all those hormones and you have, well, a mess.
That’s why my friend Elena and I created Bloom, a website where you can find comfort and advice about everything military teen related, from moving tips to navigating high school to the top things to do at your duty station. What makes us unique is our perspective. We aren’t DoD employees paid to make military kids feel good about our lifestyles. All of our writers are actual military teens who are currently living the struggles of military life. Our message to our fellow brats is simple: whatever you’re going through, you are not alone.
Maybe you’re not a military teen. Maybe you’re a parent who struggles to connect with your teenager. Maybe you’re a teacher who wonders why your military students are different from other kids. Or maybe you’re a community leader trying to offer support to the military community.
While teenagers are often categorized as “misunderstood,” it is my personal belief that military teens are more misunderstood than most. As a junior in high school who has been an Army Brat his entire life, I can attest to the unique struggles we face, and I think that every military teen wishes that people in their life could understand certain things about them. Here are ten things that we want you to know about us.
1. We aren’t normal.
You can’t honestly toss us around the world, rip our friends away, and uproot us from all that is familiar and expect us to act like normal humans. Our lives are emotional and hectic, which can cause us to act differently in certain circumstances, such as in school. However, it goes the other way as well. Many of us have been brought up in well-structured and disciplined households due to our military background, meaning we aren’t your typical crazy, out of control teenagers (most of the time).
2. We’re (probably) smarter than you think.
By the time a military kid becomes a teenager, they’ve probably lived in at least three different places. We’ve seen more of the country in the first 20 years of our lives than most Americans will see in their entire lives, giving us unique learning experiences and insights. Moving between schools, there’s a good chance that class content won’t be as new for us as it is for other students. We have also dealt with a diverse range of people, meaning most of us have gained unique social skills.
3. We’re not experts or superhumans.
The second-worst thing that people can say to us is, “You move a lot, so you’re probably good at it by now.” (The worst thing is, “Where are you from?”) In my personal experience, moving has only gotten harder every time I’ve done it. As I get older, my relationships with others grow deeper, and it becomes harder and harder to leave friends behind. As I get older, I have to deal with high school and course selection, meaning that transcripts become messier than ever. As I get older, I have more to worry about, like driving, extracurricular activities, and sports. Not to mention the increasingly larger threat of COLLEGE that looms over our time in high school.
4. Sometimes we need space.
I was an emotional wreck when I had to move from Pennsylvania to Korea, and I know a lot of my friends were when they moved too. Sometimes I just needed to curl up into a ball and cry, and there was nothing my parents could say in those moments to make me feel better about my circumstances. I always eventually learn to make the most of my surroundings when I’m in a new place and find ways to plug into my community. But it never happens instantaneously. It takes time. In such a fast paced lifestyle, military teens sometimes just need time to ourselves to process change. I’m not saying to cut us off or ignore us, and obviously don’t let us wallow in self pity forever, but give us space immediately after a big move to get our emotions together. (Disclaimer: If a teenager you know experiences signs of depression for an unreasonable amount of time, please DON’T give them space and get them the mental help they need. Depression is also a serious issue for teenagers and needs to be treated, but don’t mistake momentary sadness over a move for depression either.)
5. We need our friends.
In a lifestyle where everything changes constantly, sometimes the only consistency we have is friends from previous duty stations. Keeping in touch is essential to most kids, as it reminds us that we aren’t alone. We can’t realistically be expected to find replacements for old friends, and while we should certainly make new ones, it’s not always best to “forget” about our old friends and “move on.” The memories we form with people are lasting contributions to our lives and deserve to be remembered.
6. Our lives aren’t all sunshine and flowers…
Month of the Military Child often highlights the joys of military life, portraying military kids as resilient and strong. An essay contest at my school recently posed the question, “Why do you love being a military kid?” prompting some of my friends and I to scoff. Military life is downright difficult, not just for kids, but for active duty service-members and spouses too. To portray it as wonderful and lovely and to ignore the hardships simply isn’t fair. We need to talk about and acknowledge our hardships and not ignore them.
7. …but we are proud of who we are and thankful.
Despite the hardships, many of us aren’t bitter about our lifestyles. If not for the military, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to travel to new places, meet new friends, and gain new experiences. To be a military child is truly a unique experience that I personally wouldn’t trade for anything. Well, almost anything (it’d be nice to have a marching band again).
Military life has made us strong and resilient, and now, we’re ready to take on the world.