Military Teens Click at Website
They're brats and proud of it, and they're connecting on "Military Teen" a new website initiated by Vernessa Neu, an Army brat turned Navy wife and mother of four.
Blog and forum topics range from step-parents and deployment to bullying and "Beowulf."
In a discussion board, young participants have no trouble completing the sentence, "You know you're a military kid when …" with thoughts like:
- People ask you where you're from and you don't know what to tell them, because you've never actually lived where you were born.
- You cry when your dad comes home cause it's proof he's still alive.
- You argue with others that the term "brat" is actually very endearing.
Vernessa grew up in the Army and later joined the Navy. Now a full-time wife and mom stationed with her husband in Japan, Vernessa was inspired by one of her daughters to create an online community for military kids.
While preparing for a move, she and her oldest daughter went online to research prospective schools. Vernessa said her daughter was skeptical about the standard school-search sites.
"She said, 'That's what old people think. It doesn't mean it's really going to be that way. I'm not going to know anyone there,'" Vernessa said. She realized her daughter needed more than facts and figures about a new school.
"I remember that feeling of isolation and loneliness when we had to move when I was in high school," said Vernessa. "I remember how tough it was and how difficult it was to reconnect," she said.
More than a year ago, Vernessa imagined a site where military teens could connect with their peers to talk about places they've lived and share the challenges of their lifestyle.
Imagination became reality when Military Teen went online this summer at http://www.militaryteenonline.com/.
Providing information about schools from a student's perspective is only one of the site's functions, said Vernessa, who serves as moderator and webmaster.
"There are lots of ways for kids to connect, express themselves, ask questions, get advice."
"The issues I m hoping to address are the constant moving and starting new schools, having to leave friends behind, new relationships and trying to keep the old relationships, having parents away, having both parents away, missing family," she said.
The transition to college is another important subject.
"I talked to one teen on the site," Vernessa said. "She's never lived stateside . . . and she's applying for colleges in California. What a challenge that's going to be. The first time she ever lives stateside, and she's going to be on her own."
Military high-schoolers living in the U.S. also have challenges – and fewer opportunities to connect with other military kids.
"Overseas we are so concentrated. When you're stateside, you are separated. Some of them don't live near military bases at all," she said, particularly children of reservists or recruiters.
Students at DODDS high schools daily rub elbows with peers from military families, but military teens in the States are much more isolated.
The goal of the site is to encourage teens, no matter where they live, to talk freely about their needs and experiences, said Vernessa.
"I've been there, and I know how it is. I'm just hoping to find a way to get them to open up and to connect."
Vernessa envisions the site as a springboard for face-to-face conferences where large groups of military kids can meet and share their lives.
"The website is just a beginning. I hope to expand it and meet their needs, not only virtually, but also in the military community."