Objective: Commonly held attitudes concerning the effects of parental wartime deployment on children have usually been guided by stereotype, rather than scientific data. To determine the effects of Operation Desert Storm on military children and their parents, the authors compared children and families with and without a deployed soldier-parent prior to and during Operation Desert Storm.
Method: Three hundred eighty-three children and the remaining caretaking parent completed self- and parent-report instruments concerning child and family functioning and life stressors. Children of deployed and nondeployed personnel were compared cross-sectionally, as well as longitudinally, using data collected prior to any knowledge of Operation Desert Storm.
Results: Children of deployed personnel experienced elevated self-reported symptom levels of depression, as did their parents. Likewise, families of deployed personnel reported significantly more intervening stressors, compared with children and families of nondeployed personnel. However, deployment per se rarely provoked pathological levels of symptoms in otherwise healthy children.
Conclusions: Generally, the factors shaping differential outcomes among children of deployed personnel do not differ from the variables affecting outcomes of children of nondeployed parents. However, boys and younger children appear to be especially vulnerable to deployment effects, and increased monitoring of these children is warranted. Adequate treatment of children requires treatment of the effects of the deployment on other family members. For children showing more persistent or pervasive psychopathology, factors other than simple deployment should be considered.