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Every military family knows what it’s like to uproot their lives and start anew in another community. Many households go through this process every few years as military members are assigned to installations in new states and countries. We know this situation can be unstable for parents, but what impact do frequent moves have on the children swept along with the tide?

Thanks to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, we might have some answers to that question. British researcher Roger Webb used a data set containing the records of every person born in Denmark between 1971 and 1997. Webb specifically tracked individuals who moved often in their childhoods to discover the ‘outcomes of their lives.’

Childhood Moving Can Lead to Risky Adult Behaviors

Webb found that kids who moved a lot as kids were more likely to experience ‘negative outcomes’ as adults. These outcomes included criminality, suicide attempts, substance abuse and psychiatric disorders.

Moving is especially detrimental to children between 12 and 14, who will have double the risk of suicide as adults.

“Relocated adolescents often face a double stress of adapting to an alien environment, a new school, and building new friendships and social networks, while simultaneously coping with the fundamental biological and developmental transitions that their peers also experience,” Webb and his colleagues write.

The reason behind a childhood move can drastically change its impact on a child. An organized, planned move caused by parents getting a new job or home can be a smooth experience. Unexpected, disruptive moves such as a sudden eviction from a property, however, can be “intrinsically harmful.”


The big takeaway from this study is that it confirms what most parents probably already know. The disrupt transition of moving communities is tough on kids, especially when they are adolescents on the cusp of puberty. For military parents, this is an incomplete picture.

As the Washington Post points out, Webb doesn’t account for every reason a family might move to a new community. For example, military families move so often because a family member has been reassigned to a new locale by the Department of Defense. This type of relocation isn’t touched on at all by the study.  Military children already feel more stress than civilian kids during wartime, so it would be enlightening to learn whether the same holds true for military moves.