Caution and Hope for Military Kids
When TCK Training released our white paper, Caution and Hope: The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Globally Mobile Third Culture Kids, we knew we were only beginning to scratch the surface of what we could learn from the data we had collected from 1,904 individuals who completed our 2021 survey on developmental trauma in globally mobile Third Culture Kids. This is the first in a series of blog posts that will look a little deeper at certain sub-groups represented in the data.
Caution and Hope for Military Kids
The military kids in our sample were older on average than other TCKs we surveyed. While in most sectors, nearly half the respondents were born after 1990, among military kids over half were born before 1970.
It probably comes as no surprise to learn that the Military Kids we surveyed experienced high mobility throughout childhood. They were more likely to move locations, and more likely to move houses. They were slightly less likely, however, to live in more than two countries, and half as likely to live in more than three countries. These percentages were almost identical in both the older and younger generations of military kids.
Military kids moved locations far more often than other TCKs in our sample. Two-thirds of military kids moved location at least eight times before turning 18, nearly double the percentage of TCKs overall. 84% of military kids moved at least six times, compared to 58% of TCKs generally.
When location mobility is divided by age, we see a decrease in the high mobility of military kids. 68% of the older generation moved at least eight times, compared to only 47% of the younger. 90% of older military kids moved at least six times, compared to 78% of the younger generation. Younger military kids experienced higher mobility than other TCKs, but not as extreme as the older generation of military kids.
A similar pattern appears when we look at the number of house moves before age 18. Only 3% of military kids had moved house four or fewer times during childhood, compared to 15% of TCKs generally. Half of TCKs had moved more than eight times, compared to two-thirds of military kids.
Younger military kids were also less impacted by house mobility than older military kids, though the difference was less striking than with location moves.
The Impact of Mobility
The trend toward fewer military kids experiencing extremely high mobility is an encouraging one, even in a small sample like this, because another finding of our survey was that high mobility was clearly correlated with high ACE scores.
The ACE score is a method of quantifying Adverse Childhood Experiences that occurred in an individual’s life before age 18. Decades of research has seen a connection between a score of four or higher with various negative health outcomes. (We discuss this in more detail in Caution and Hope.) The ACE scores of military kids in general were higher than the ACE scores of TCKs overall, regardless of age. There was a slight decrease from the older group to the younger group, however.
We discovered in our research that TCKs who experienced high mobility were significantly more likely to have a 4+ ACE score. A third of TCKs who moved location >10 times or moved house >15 times had these high-risk ACE scores. This group has higher risk factors for a wide range of negative behavioral, psychological, and physical health outcomes - including risk of cancer, autoimmune conditions, addiction, and depression.
The Power of PCEs
Those risk factors are not the end of the story, however. Having a high ACE score does not guarantee a bad outcome, and there are ways to lower an individual’s risk - particularly with preventive care during childhood. In Caution and Hope we introduced both the HOPE framework and Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs). Both are backed by extensive research demonstrating the power of preventive care in reducing the risk that a high ACE score will lead to negative outcomes in adulthood.
Caution and Hope:
The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Globally Mobile Third Culture Kids
Knowing that the high mobility military kids experience puts them at risk is helpful, because we also know that deliberate implementation of proven strategies backed by research will buffer them from those risks. Much can be done to equip parents and extended family members as well as to educate community leaders in how to provide effective preventive care for the military kids in their care. That’s why we at TCK Training do what we do: to promote lifelong thriving for those impacted by mobility and cultural transition.
Other blog posts in this series:
Caution and Hope for Students in Christian International Schools
Caution and Hope for Children of International Educators and Humanitarian workers