Prevalence and Correlates of Victimization and Weapon Carrying Among Military- and Nonmilitary-Connected Youth in Southern California

Abstract

“Objectives. The present analysis sought to explore the normative rates and correlates of school victimization and weapon carrying among military-connected and nonmilitary-connected youth in public schools in Southern California. Methods. Data are from a sub-sample of the 2011 California Healthy Kids Survey (N = 14,512). Items to assess victimization and weapon carrying were separated into three categories: physical acts (e.g., being pushed or shoved), nonphysical acts (e.g., having rumors spread about them) and weapon carrying. Results. The bivariate results indicate that youth with a military-connected parent had higher rates of physical victimization (56.8%), nonphysical victimization (68.1%), and weapon carrying (14.4%) compared to those with siblings serving (55.2%, 65.2%, and 11.4%, respectively) and nonmilitary-connected (50.3%, 61.6%, and 8.9%, respectively) youth. Having a parent in the military increased the odds of weapon carrying by 29% (Odds Ratio = 1.29, 95% confidence interval = 1.02–1.65). Changing schools and a larger number of family member deployments in the past 10 years were associated with significant increases in the likelihood of victimization and weapon carrying.

Conclusions. The results of this analysis warrant a focus on school supports for youth experiencing parental military service, multiple relocations and deployments of a family member.”

Implications

For Practice

Students who witness peer victimization should speak up, and alert a school official to the victimization. Both military and non-military students experiencing peer victimization or who feel unsafe should talk with their family, school counselor, or other trusted adult. Family members and school counselors should encourage open and nonjudgmental dialogue on peer victimization and weapon carrying with their adolescents. Given that military adolescents experiencing peer victimization have a higher likelihood of weapon carrying, parents should discuss with their adolescent nonviolent ways to address peer victimization. School personnel, especially counselors, should be cognizant of the varied backgrounds of military-connected youth, and when necessary, assist them in their transition into the new school. Schools should ensure a safe environment for students to report peer victimization without retaliation from peers. Schools and school districts should develop programs to reduce bullying and peer victimization for both military and non-military adolescents. Since military-connected students sometimes lack necessary social support, schools should implement programming for military and non-military connected students to socialize and support each other. Programs that encourage peer support and positive socialization should be incorporated in areas where bullying and other forms of peer victimization are common, such as playgrounds and school lunchrooms.

For Policy

The Department of Defense (DoD) might continue fostering conditions that maximize family success while parents or other family members are deployed, including employing strategies to ease transitions from relocations. Previous research on military families has found that military families move up to nine times on average. To reduce the negative impact on continuous relocation on military families, the DoD could consider lengthening the duration of relocations for service members with families. Since military adolescents can have a higher likelihood of underage drinking and substance abuse when experiencing peer victimization, policymakers and the VA might implement a program that ensures military adolescents experiencing peer victimization receive necessary support services. To ensure military adolescents experiencing depression and other mental illnesses are receiving necessary treatment, the VA might expand access to its mental health diagnosis and treatment programs. To decrease potential peer victimization, state policymakers could implement anti-bullying policies and programs for implementation, similar to New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act.

For Future Research

Further research is needed on the relationship between peer victimization and military adolescents. A limitation of this study is that the authors were unable to analyze causality between parental deployment and peer victimization. Future researchers should examine the relationship between a family member’s deployment and peer victimization of military adolescents. Future studies should examine strategies military-connected adolescents use to cope with varying forms of peer victimization, and recommend productive, nonviolent strategies. More research is needed on the mental health consequences of peer victimization experienced by military and nonmilitary adolescents. It would be beneficial to investigate how socioeconomic status impacts the likelihood and risk of peer victimization for both military and non-military adolescents. A limitation of this study is that the sample was limited to Southern California. Future studies should be conducted across the United States to allow for nationally representative samples. Future researchers should include the Department of Defense Education Activity schools in their analyses.

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