Below we will be presenting both Qualitative and Quantitative Data-Driven Research as well as narrative and historical document archive reviews for consideration and insight.

Positive Traits Developed From the Military Connected Childhood and Third Culture Experiences. 

Positive Traits of a Transnationally Mobile Childhood.

Many researchers who have studied the Third Culture Kid/Adult Third Culture Kid (TCK/ATCK) population of which military children make up a significant portion have noted that the experience of growing up mobile and especially moving transnationally during developmental years often leads to the development of a skill set of positive traits in the areas of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Social areas including:

  • development of an expanded world view;
  • adaptability, flexibility, and tolerance for risk,
  • capacity for global mobility.
  • language acquisition and retention skills,
  • cross cultural skills, and
  • acceptance of diversity.

Development of an Expanded World View.

The expended world view (Useem & Downie, 1976) of the TCK/ATCK is described as an openminded (Dewaele & van Oudenhoven, 2009), three dimensional (Kittredge, 1996; Pollock & Van Reken, 2009), internationally (Lam & Selmer, 2004) broadened perspective (Gilbert & Gilbert, 2011; Wu, 2011) or viewpoint (Fry, 2007)  that enables the TCK/ATCK to be able to neutralize or disconnect from their home country (Fail, Thompson, & Walker, 2004; Lam & Selmer, 2004) and adopt a multiple sense of belonging in different places (Fail, Thompson, & Walker, 2004). Resulting in a form of global wisdom (Asbury Seaman, 1996) or vision (McCaig, 1996) that extends beyond national boundaries (McCaig, 1996), recognizes ones origination culture with new awareness (Gerner & Perry, 2002), and gains a wealth of insight (Useem & Downie, 1976) into the cultural complexity of world events (Van Reken, 2011)

Adaptability, Flexibility and Tolerance for Risk.

ATCKs are cited as being highly adaptable (Bell, 1996; Gilbert & Gilbert, 2011; Useem & Baker Cottrell, 1996) able to handle the unexpected with ease (Finn Jordan, 2002) and adjust their dress, behavior, cuisine, and traditions (Cachevki Williams & Liebenow Mariglia, 2002) to fit in to a crowd quickly (Bell, 1996; Fail, Thompson, & Walker, 2004). Perhaps because of this they are generally less dependent on their peers (Gerner, 1990; Useem & Downie, 1976) showing significant flexibility (Gilbert & Gilbert, 2011; Wu, 2011), self-reliance and tolerance for risk based on inner confidence (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009).

Capacity for Globally Mobility.

ATCKs not only started out their lives globally mobile but they tend to remain travel oriented (Gerner & Perry, 2002), globally connected (Merrill-Foster, 1996) and internationally engaged (Useem & Baker Cottrell, 1996) throughout their lives.  Many ATCKs maintain an on-going enjoyment of traveling internationally to foreign places (Ender, 2002; Lam & Selmer, 2004) and interest in geographic mobility (Gerner, 1990; Workman, 1983) and in adulthood ATCKs show an eagerness to seek out new challenges (Gilbert & Gilbert, 2011), evidence an ability to relocate quickly (Bell, 1996), and an openness to opportunities to travel (Wu, 2011).

Language Acquisition and Retention. 

TCK/ATCKs often exhibit significant language skills (Wu, 2011) including a greater linguistic ability for new language learning (Gerner, 1990; McCaig, 1996; Van Reken, 2011) and language acceptance (Gerner & Perry, 2002); have developed multilingual fluency (Cachevki Williams & Liebenow Mariglia, 2002); Ender, 1996; Fry, 2007; Kittredge, 1996; Lam & Selmer, 2004; McCaig, 1996; Pollock & Van Reken, 2009) and superior command of other languages (Baker Cottrell, 2011).

Cross-Cultural Skills.

ATKCs are reported as being culturally insightful (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009) careful skilled observers (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009; Useem & Downie, 1976) with regards to their awareness of underlying assumptions behind cultural practices (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009). Based on their multicultural identities (Fail, Thompson, & Walker, 2004) and knowledge of other cultural ways (Baker Cottrell, 2011) they demonstrate a facility to understand others (Finn Jordan, 2002).  They also show a willingness to use their well-developed cross-cultural skills (Kittredge, 1996; Useem & Baker Cottrell, 1996) to serve as bridge builders (Schaetti, 1996; Van Reken, 2011).  Many have acted as social liaison between cultures (Ender, 1996) since childhood and find they are able to move between traditions easily and quickly (Schaetti, 1996) where they can serve as mediators able to and interact with different cultural groups (Asbury Seaman, 1996; Gerner, 1990; Gleason, 1970) including conflicting parties (Schaetti, 1996)

Acceptance of Diversity.

ATCKs have developed insights into common feelings and humanity with peers from various backgrounds (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009) which perhaps explains their capacity to be sensitive to and accepting of others who are different from them (Gilbert & Gilbert, 2011; Lam & Selmer, 2004) showing greater tolerance for diversity in general (Useem & Downie, 1976) and for racial and religious diversity in particular (Schaetti, 1996).

CHALLENGES Related to Growing Up Military

Just as there are strengths which are developed through the military connected and/or transnationally mobile lifestyle there are also challenges. One major difficulty with recognizing the challenges in the military connected childhood lies in the tendency of the military as an organization to protect itself first. (Pressman & Pressman, 1997 and Wertz, 1991)

Social problems within military families have been attributed to the pathologies of individual family members or the family itself rather than to characteristics of the military organization.

M. G. Ender

However, considering data from current studies as well as considering narratives over time it is quite possible to see that many of the challenges which military connected families face are socio-historical constructs of the organization and lifestyle and need to be dealt with proactively in order to best support the military connected families and our service members and veterans.

Well-Being and Mental Health Issues Among Military Connected Youth

Data analyzed by authors from the 2011 California Healthy Kids Survey examined feeling sad or hopeless, suicidal ideation, well-being, and depressive symptoms by military connectedness in a subsample (n ¼ 14,299) of seventh-, ninth-, and 11th-grade California adolescents.

  • It is estimated that 11.2% of all United States youth experience clinical depression. Up to 28.5% reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more consecutive weeks during the past 12 months. Whereas this study showed 33.7% of adolescents with a parent and 35.3% with a sibling in the military reported feeling sad or hopeless for more than 2 weeks in the past 12 months.
  • More than 15% of adolescents reported seriously considering attempting suicide during the past 12 months. Whereas this study showed 24.8% of military connected youth with a parent in the military and 26.1% of military connected youth with a sibling in the military reported seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months.
  • Beyond general stressors in adolescence, deployment of a parent during a time of war is known to have direct negative consequences on adolescent mental health.
  • Youth with a parent in the military have higher levels of psychosocial distress compared with their non-military peers, including symptoms of psychopathology.
  • being older, female, or a racial/ethnic minority was also associated with reporting sad or hopeless although white youth have traditionally been more likely to commit suicide, rates are growing for ethnic minority groups

Cederbaum, J. A., Gilreath, T. D., Benbenishty, R., Astor, R. A., Pineda, D., Depedro, K. T., … Atuel, H. (2014). Well-being and suicidal ideation of secondary school students from military families. Journal of Adolescent Health, 54(6), 672–677.

Family Mental Health and Well-Being Issues

VA statistics the veteran suicide rate is highest among 18 to 34 year olds , however, there is no data readily available to indicate how many children were impacted by these suicides.

The Demographics of Military Connected Mobility

  • Nearly all military families experience a move outside the continental United States and deployment of a family member.
  • Active duty military personnel must move on average once every two to three years, meaning that military families move 2.4 times as often as civilian families.
  • They are also more likely than civilian families to move long distances, across state lines, or to foreign countries.
  • Accept subpar housing or incur significant fees due to immediacy of moves.
  • Frequent moves also mean that military spouses earn less than their civilian counterparts. Among married women employed full time, for example, the wage gap between military and civilian wives ranged from 20 percent to 29 percent, depending on education 
  • For children, frequent moves can disrupt education and bring periods of stressful acclimation to a new environment where they may not have any friends and may be disconnected from school and community activities.
  • Because of differences among school districts in the timing and format of subjects and lessons, children may find some lessons repetitive, while they may miss other lessons entirely as they move from one school to the next.
  • The delay in transferring school records, which can take weeks or months, may mean that students are placed in classes inappropriate to their previous experiences or ability level.

Clever, M. & Segal, D. R. (2013), The demographics of military children and families. The future of children 23(2) 13—39.

The Impacts of Mobility

One large scale longitudinal study out of Denmark recently published findings related to the adverse impacts childhood mobility which seems to suggest high levels of mobility may best be categorized as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) having lifetime impacts.


Elevated risks were observed for all examined outcomes, with excess risk seen among those exposed to multiple versus single relocations in a year. Risks grew incrementally with increasing age of exposure to mobility. For violent offending, attempted suicide, substance misuse, and unnatural death, sharp spikes in risk linked with multiple relocations in a year during early/mid-adolescence were found. With attempted suicide and violent offending, the primary outcomes, a distinct risk gradient was observed with increasing age at exposure across the socioeconomic spectrum.


The links between childhood residential mobility and negative outcomes in later life appear widespread across multiple endpoints, with elevation in risk being particularly marked if frequent residential change occurs during early/mid-adolescence. Heightened vigilance is indicated for relocated adolescents and their families, with a view to preventing longer-term adverse outcomes in this population among all socioeconomic groups. Risk management will require close cooperation among multiple public agencies, particularly child, adolescent, and adult mental health services.

Webb, R. T., Pedersen, C. B., DrMed SC, & Mok, P. L. H. (2016). Adverse outcomes to early middle age linked with childhood residential mobility. American Journal of Preventative Medicine 51(3). 291–300.

Needed Support Services

Any experience that is enough out of the ordinary to require serious advance planning, training, and orientation is worth an opportunity for debriefing.


it’s assumed you’ll work it out.

Col. William Klein,
former Chief of Child Psychiatry
Walter Reed Medical Center,

In DISCUSSING the need for
Military Family
orientations and debriefings