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Study: Military students more likely to carry guns, be bullied

Jan. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Middle and high school students of military parents are twice as likely to carry guns and are more likely to be victims of physical violence such as being pushed or shoved, involved in fights, and having property stolen, according to a study of six public school districts in Southern California that was partially funded by the Defense Department.

“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,” according to the study.

While 3.6 percent of non-military children in grades 7, 9 and 11 reported carrying guns to school, 8.6 percent of students with a parent in the military reported carrying a gun, according to the researchers at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work. The research was partially funded by a Department of Defense Education Activity grant. The findings were released online from the journal Preventive Medicine.

Those who reported no family member deployments had significantly lower rates of carrying a gun to school — 2.8 percent, compared to 5.6 percent of those who had experienced one family member deployment, and 5.4 percent of those who experienced two or more family member deployments.

Military children were also more than twice as likely to have been threatened at school by someone with a weapon: 13 percent, compared to 7 percent of their non-military peers.

The research was based on the 2011 California Health Kids Survey, conducted annually to monitor youth risk, behavior and resilience. The analysis included 14,512 students in those six military-connected school districts, which were not identified. Of those, 1,338, or 9 percent, had a parent in the military and 619, or 4 percent, had a sibling in the military.

“It is possible that having a military-connected family member allows youth access to weapons in the home,” Tamika D. Gilreath, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the school, in the study announcement. “Additionally, multiple deployments may contribute to increased weapon carrying if a parent is deployed and parental monitoring declines in the absence of the other parent.”

Researchers noted there are no indications students are more likely to actually use weapons at school. “This may hint that carrying weapons may have a different meaning for military-connected students,” said co-author Rami Benbenishty. “We need to listen more to these students and better understand their experiences in school.”

Other findings:

■ 38 percent of children with a parent in the military reported being pushed or shoved within the past 12 months at school, compared to 29 percent of civilian kids.

■ 27 percent of military children were afraid of being attacked, compared to 19 percent of civilian kids.

■ 26 percent of military kids had been in a fight, compared to 19 percent of civilian kids.

■ 33 percent of military kids had property stolen, compared to 25 percent of civilian kids.

■ 13 percent of military kids brought a knife to school, compared to 8 percent of civilian kids

The results indicate a need for more attention to students in transition, researchers said.

“Such relocations cause youth to lose important social supports and networks,” Gilreath said. “Additionally for military-connected youth, these moves may also coincide with deployment cycles whereby they lose the support of one of their parents.”

Gilreath said the study shows that schools need to increase the support they provide to new students, especially military students.

It was not immediately known whether any of the school districts studied participate in the longstanding transition programs of the Military Child Education Coalition, which offer, among other things, training and support for school counselors in helping military students.

MCEC’s Student 2 Student program has been implemented in a number of schools around the country, including public schools and schools around the world in the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Students are trained to take new students under their wing and help them in a variety of ways, including being a lunch buddy, showing them to classes, and answering questions and providing tips and insights into the new school.

Under its educational partnership program with civilian schools, DoDEA also works with many school districts on transition issues for military students.

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