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How will teenagers respond to a parent returning from the service?

Teenagers have to grow up fast when a military parent is deployed. They often take on adult responsibilities to help the parent at home with household duties and raising of younger children. Or they get an after-school job to help with finances. It can be a tremendous burden on them, but at the same time, teens of military parents seem to become more outgoing and independent than non-military kids their age.

When the deployed parent comes home, there is a big adjustment to make. Independent teens may bristle at being given new or different responsibilities. They may be resentful of the service member parent’s attempts to assume authority in the family. Homecoming is exciting and joyful for the military family initially, but there can be some rough patches in the months that follow. There can be anger at the service member parent for having been away, and for making the teen feel his/her family is “different” than other families, just when the teen most feels a need to fit in with his/her peers. Teens may have been worried about their parent during deployment, watching the news and fearing for the parent’s safety. The build-up of this stress and anger can result in irritable and even rebellious behavior when the service member returns.

Patience and consistency on the part of both parents are the best responses to teens’ adjustment after homecoming. Maintaining a consistent home environment is a challenge when another parent is added back into the picture, but consistency makes kids feel more secure. Don’t expect your teenaged child to tell you exactly how they are feeling; teens are well-known for avoiding talking to adults about what’s important to them. If problems develop, try to tackle them early on. Remember that you have resources outside the family as well if things get overwhelming: school counselors, teachers, and clergy people can support you and your teenaged child through this transition.
Armin Brott
Pediatrics

Teens can go through a huge variety of emotions and behavioral changes when a deployed parent (usually the dad) comes home. There's often relief (that he came home alive and that saying, "I hate you and wish you were dead"—which teens often say—didn't come true). They can resent the dad who comes home and tries to pick up where he left off before the deployment. Part of that is, "Who the heck are you? Mom has been giving the orders around here so we don't have to listen to you." Anther part of that resentment is the result of the teens worrying that they may have to give up responsibilities that they took on while dad was away.

Also very common is anger. Teens may take the dad's deployment as a personal affront—"You promised you'd teach me to drive ... or be at my graduation ... etc." And when dad comes home, he may be greeted with an angry teen who, despite the fact that he's glad dad is back, will take a while to get over his anger. My recent book, "The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads," goes into all of this—and a lot more. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.