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Dr. Brian Houston, University of Missouri – Texting and Deployed Military Personnel

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Brian Houston of the University of Missouri reveals how modern communication technology is changing how military families deal with deployment. 

Brian Houston is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Missouri and Co-Director for the university’s Terrorism and Disaster Center. His research examines the impact of media coverage of terrorism on children and adults, the role of new media during disasters, and the capacity for using information communication technologies to increase community resilience. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.

About Dr. Houston

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Dr. Brian Houston – Texting and Deployed Military Personnel

In this study we conducted interviews with the spouses and children of deployed National Guard troops to examine how communication about deployment influenced family members’ emotions and behaviors. Our interviews were conducted at three time periods: before deployment, during deployment, and after deployment. Our results pointed to two important findings.

The first main finding was that the children who were most upset during deployment tended to communicate with their deployed parent more often. There are two ways to explain this finding. The first explanation is that being upset may have motivated military children to communicate with their deployed parent more frequently. The second explanation is that there may be something about communicating with a deployed parent that is upsetting for children. For example, in our study the children who texted with their deployed parent more often were more upset. Perhaps the brief nature of text messages or the fact that text messages generally lack emotional cues may result in communication with a deployed parent that doesn’t address a child’s needs and is therefore more distressing. If a child is seeking assurances through communication with a deployed parent, communication mediums such as texting, emailing, or even cell phones may not be satisfactory in conveying the emotional support and encouragement needed by a child.

Our second main finding was that the more often military children communicated with their siblings, the better the children did, in terms of emotions and behaviors following deployment. Thus having a brother or sister to talk to about deployment may be particularly beneficial for military children. Sibling support may be helpful for children during deployment because when a parent is deployed, the non-deployed parent may be tasked with picking up the slack, and so other support options from within the family are needed. For military children without siblings, similar support might be available from interacting with other youth who are experiencing deployment.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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