Supporting Youth With Deployed Family Members

It’s Military Family Appreciation Month! We are thrilled to welcome BGCA’s Kat Adams, current Director of Sports & Recreation and (former) Navy brat back to the blog!

The only thing bigger than my poms is my love of Navy football (and beating Army)

For Military Family Appreciation Month, let’s look at one of the most difficult parts about being a military brat – deployment. Deployment is when a member of the military is relocated for a specific task or mission. The stereotypical deployment is overseas during a conflict, but training deployments happen all the time and to places all over the world, including within the United States.

There are 496 BGCA-affiliated Youth Centers on U.S. military installations worldwide, but plenty of military youth live and go to school off-base, going to traditional Clubs. This means any Club can have members experiencing a deployment.

Wondering how to support Club members who are dealing with the disruption of a deployment? I’m so glad you asked! Here are some top tips and activity ideas to support military youth and their families.

Provide emotional check-ins and support

No surprises here- emotional safety is super important!

  • A parent being sent somewhere unknown and potentially dangerous is scary. Use emotional check-ins to help youth identify and name their emotions. Emphasize that it is okay to be feeling all of them.
  • Give youth opportunities to express and regulate their emotions through activities like journaling, making art or music, and exercising.

Maintain routines

Any deployment disrupts household routines. A two-parent household goes to functioning like a single-parent household overnight. Or if a single parent is deployed, or both parents are deployed, the youth or teen will have a different guardian entirely.

  • Help youth keep a regular routine at the Club, and be on hand to help them figure out their new routines at home and at school.
  • Know your community- if you know that multiple youth may be affected by an upcoming deployment, it may not be the best time to completely redo your programming schedule at the Club.


Even in the age of texting and FaceTime, communicating with a parent during deployment can be difficult. There are plenty of times when internet and phone service is restricted or not available at all, not to mention time zone differences.

  • This is a perfect time to resurrect the ancient art of letter-writing and sending postcards! Give youth opportunities to write letters and then send that snail mail via the Military Post Service.
  • If your military youth has permission to use the internet, allow them to write emails that can be checked when a service member has internet access.

Where in the world is your service member?

One of the most interesting parts of deployment is being able to learn about other parts of the world and even our country. Knowing the history, culture, and day-to-day life of the places their service member is deployed to can give youth a feeling of ownership and understanding.

  • Create activities for youth to research, do an art project, watch a movie, read a book, or even try a snack or meal from where their loved one is deployed. (Note that this could also be super upsetting for some, so make sure you are regularly checking in with youth and their families.)
  • Something that is probably most common in Navy families is ship tracking. When my dad was at sea for months at a time, my mom and I would track his location on a giant map. He was still far away, but knowing he was “somewhere between Seoul and Guam” was a comfort compared to “somewhere in either the Atlantic or Pacific or Indian Oceans.” See if you can do something similar.

Be ready for reverse-culture shock

As we mentioned, when a parent or caretaker is deployed, day-to-day routines change. When deployment ends, and the emotional high from the homecoming dies down, families have to readjust. Youth may feel confused that routines that were finally comfortable have been disrupted again. Teens who took on added responsibilities or had more independence during deployment may be resentful when they have to give them up, or feel like their growth is not recognized.

  • Keep lines of communication open during these times to support youth and teens. Reassure them that their feelings are okay.
  • Another part of deployment that may be difficult is the often secretive nature of the job. When other parents would come in to school to talk about their jobs, my dad couldn’t, because it was classified. (Nearly 20 years after my dad’s last deployment, he still has to answer innocent questions with “I can neither confirm nor deny” because it might touch on classified information!) Stay sensitive to these kinds of circumstances, and structure activities or events so that youth don’t feel left out.

Ultimately, what military youth need is the same high-quality youth development experience that every youth needs, but with an awareness for military culture. Plus, being there for youth during this difficult time also helps their deployed service members. When service members know that their families are being taken care of at home, it makes focusing on a stressful job a bit easier. Supporting youth and their families during deployment is a way that every one of us can serve our country.

How do you serve the unique needs of military families? What are your best tips for supporting youth whose family members may be away for long periods of time? Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email to share.


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