April is here, which means it's once again time to bust out the essay contests, giveaways, thank you Facebook posts, and purple t-shirts around the world! It's the Month of the Military Child, the time where military kids are given the spotlight, and the community comes together to honor them.
To be completely honest, though, I sometimes am bothered during this month, and not just because I never can find a purple shirt to wear (seriously, though, who owns purple shirts?). Don't misunderstand me; I am very appreciative of the support shown during this time, and I am incredibly grateful that many go the extra mile to say thank you.
But for all the people that purposefully use this month to reflect on the struggles of military children, there are always others who are just checking the box to say they did it.
Last year, my school held an essay contest where students could write about why they "love being a military kid." They also made a Facebook post thanking us for our sacrifices. And that was that. April came and went, and we all went on with our lives. Meanwhile, many teachers still act as if we're not thousands of miles from our home country, the administration still refuses to be flexible in regards to transcript issues and course selection, new students still feel lost and confused, and kids are still choosing to move senior year rather than apply for stabilization and finish out high school here.
The thank you posts, essay contests, and purple shirts are incredibly kind gestures. Yet they are absolutely meaningless if there is no action to back them up.
Unlike every other article we've published at Bloom, this one isn't for military teens. This is for the parents (yes, we know you read our articles. Love you guys!), the teachers, the superintendents, the principals, the counselors, the coaches, the lawmakers (just kidding, unless...), and every single adult who regularly interacts with military kids. If you want to truly honor the military child, a single month is not where it ends. There must be a road ahead that extends beyond a simple message of thanks and leads to true understanding and advocacy. Where does this road begin? With just a few simple shifts in perspective.
First of all, military life isn't all sunshine and roses.
Of course, there's world travel, diverse friendships, and awesome opportunities that come with it, but there are also the struggles of deployment, moving, and leaving behind loved ones. It's fine to emphasize the great things about military life, after all, it is pretty great! But when the great things are highlighted and the not-so-great things are covered up, we create a false narrative of the life of a military child.
It's fine to be optimistic; positivity and looking on the bright side are very important. But at a certain point, it becomes toxic. It can lead to a false sense of security, the idea that since there are great things about military life, we should just accept the bad parts as "necessary sacrifice for the good of our nation" and force our "resilient military children" to keep enduring as they have for decades. What's worse, we run the risk of young military brats growing up with the "suck it up, it's normal!" mentality. Young military brats need to understand that yes, their struggles ARE normal, but that doesn't mean they should just take it. They should seek help when they need it, and help improve life for other military brats.
So yes, celebrate the unique experiences, diversity, and resiliency of the military child, and encourage an optimistic outlook. But create an honest picture of military life rather than sugarcoating it.
Please do your research and attempt to gain a greater understanding of military children.
Oftentimes, people assume things about military brats based on media depictions and age-old stereotypes. They assume we're all super polite, or that we've traveled the globe, or that moving somehow doesn't bother us anymore because we're "used to it." These assumptions hinder positive change, especially when they are used to inform policy or behavior toward military kids.
If you didn't grow up a military brat, chances are you don't truly understand what we go through. That's absolutely fine; we don't expect you to! But that doesn't mean you shouldn't bother learning more about our unique struggles. There are many organizations and nonprofits that are actively taking steps to aid military children. Blue Star Families, the Military Child Education Coalition, and the National Military Family Association all have conducted extensive research into military children, and they use this research to effectively advocate and provide for them. Take advantage of their reports and resource packets to educate yourself and gain a newfound perspective into the lives of military children.
Of course, the best way to gain new insight into military children is to actually listen to military children.
This seems so obvious when I type it out, but unfortunately, there are many factors that hinder people from actually doing this. For one, some think that youth automatically equals immaturity. They don't trust that military children have the emotional capacity to process and understand what they're going through and what they're feeling. And sure, some may not. But I think that the vast majority of us do.
It pains me when my peers tell me that adults don't believe them when they open up about mental health struggles. It hurts me when parents are oblivious to their child's struggles at school or, even worse, they blame it on hormones. It tears me to pieces when my friends vent their frustrations and cry out for help on social media because there is no adult they trust to understand them.
These incidents don't have to happen if adults will approach military children with empathy and an open mind, seeking to gain knowledge rather than to bestow it. Have open conversations with the military brats in your life, and find out what they're actually going through rather than making assumptions. Shed your role of mentor, parent, or authority figure if only for a moment, and become an equal, a confidant, maybe even a friend.
Knowledge of our lives is the first step in creating positive change for military brats, and can only be attained by acknowledging both sides of the coin, actively seeking information, and, perhaps most importantly, actually listening to military children.
This is the road ahead from the Month of the Military Child. This is the next step beyond the thank you post, giveaway, or t-shirt. This is the path to real, positive change for military brats to come, through advocacy and even just simple understanding.
This April, acknowledge the brats in your life. Wear purple. Participate in giveaways. Hold essay contests. But don't do it just for the sake of doing it. Do it with the intent of actually helping military kids, and back up your words of gratitude with more than superficial gestures. Military life gets tough sometimes, and the next generations will only continue to face new challenges as society advances. And when they do, they will need all the help they can get from adults who care. You are a key part of our road ahead, and we are so grateful for the steps you have already taken along this path and the steps that you will take in the future.