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Mission: Family: New website for military children aims to create online community

Feb. 16, 2012 - 12:30PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 16, 2012 - 12:30PM  |  
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About the author

Karen Jowers is the wife of a military retiree.

Military parents have known for a long time that deployments can deeply affect kids. And just like their parents, kids need to connect with others who are going through the same thing.

A new resource aims to help them do just that. Connecting children in the active and reserve communities, http://www.militarykidsconnect.org/">Military Kids Connect offers videos, educational tools and games and activities for three age groups: 6 to 8, 9 to 12, and 13 to 17. The site was created by psychologists at Defense Department's National Center for Telehealth and Technology at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

In the two weeks after it was launched in mid-January, the site was visited about 7,800 times, said Kelly Blasko, lead psychologist for the project. "It says a lot about how hungry people are," she said.

Most of the site is public, but children must register and get parental approval to use the message boards, designed to be a social forum for tweens and teens. The site uses filters and moderators to keep children from revealing personal information and to screen for inappropriate material and possible predators.

The psychologists who developed the site based it on research into the effects of repeated deployments. For example, a 2010 Rand Corp. study indicated that military children experience distress and anxiety symptoms before, during and after a parent's deployment.

"One of the challenges is, we don't want to just say, ‘Oh, you're anxious,' " Blasko said. "We want to make it interactive and gamelike. There will be more of that in the future."

For example, before deployments, kids are often anxious about the unknown. Research shows that as soon as they find out their parent is deploying, older children tune in to the news.

The "Where Are You Going?" feature is designed to reduce anxiety by providing information about the place where their parent will deploy. Click on Afghanistan on the world map and find videos of the mountains, information and pictures of the culture, and related activities such as instructions on how to make a paper mosaic.

More teen-specific material will be added to the site, with more ways for deployed parents and children to interact, perhaps with games, Blasko said. The team is also adding material to help children deal with issues after the service member returns, and looking at ways to build companion mobile apps.

"I feel excited I can be helping kids during a challenging time of deployment," Blasko said. "And it's not just skills for this current situation but for later in life."

I'm interested in hearing what military parents and children think about the new site. If you try it out, kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=I%20tried%20Military%20Kids%20Connect">click here to send me an email.

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