Caution and Hope for Military Kids

Tanya crossman

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

In our survey of nearly 2,000 people who grew up internationally, we discovered that 24% (1 in 4) of those who grew up globally in military families were at high risk of adverse outcomes in adulthood. In this blog post, we go through the data from our white paper "Caution and Hope" that applies specifically to military kids: things that are hard to hear, along with what we can do to cultivate long term thriving for children growing up in the military world.
Military kids were the third largest sector represented in our survey, with 269 individual respondents. In this blog post, we give an overview of the data on military kids presented in Caution and Hope, break the data down a little further, and discuss what this tells us about caring well for military kids. Let’s start with a little demographic information.


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.
The charts in this post take some of the numbers we shared in Caution and Hope and break them down by generation - splitting the military kids surveyed into two groups: those born before 1970 and those born after 1970. Most of the older group belonged to the post World War II “baby boom” generation. Most of the younger group belonged to the “Generation X” and “Millennial” generations. Each of these groups we compare are over 100 individuals, making them large enough for reasonable comparison. 


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. 

"Their research revealed seven PCEs that act as protective factors and explain how someone with a high ACE score can still thrive in adulthood. Bethell and her coworkers found that having higher counts of PCEs was associated with 72% lower odds of having depression or poor mental health overall as an adult; that those with higher levels of positive experiences were over 3.5 times more likely to have healthy social and emotional support as an adult; and that accumulation of the seven PCEs shifted the outcome positively 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.

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