How are Youth Development Programs Helping Military Youth and Families?

November 9, 2021


As the Tigers prepare to face Connecticut this weekend, the game is dedicated to military servicemen and servicewomen to show gratitude for their service to the United States of America. Recognized as Military Appreciation Day, the event is a great opportunity to highlight research by the Youth Development Leadership (YDL) faculty and students targeting military youth and their families.

This month’s blog post focuses on the research conducted by experts in the Youth Development Leadership (YDL) field, working in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University (see author details at the end of this piece).

The YDL research team worked collaboratively with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) to evaluate the impact of a Military Teen Ambassadors (MTA) program. The study evaluated participants’ knowledge of resiliency and family reintegration following deployment. The full text of article can be found here, This blog post outlines some of the study details and key findings, discusses practical implications, and suggests possible next steps to build upon the research.

A Little about the Study and the Context


“Nearly one million youth (ages 20 and under, or 21–22 if enrolled as full-time students) have parents serving on active duty across all four branches of the U.S. military (Department of Defense, 2018)”, from Weston et al., 2021.


The BGCA is an organization that offers targeted support through trained staff, developmental resources, and evidence-based practices that aims to enhance young people’s sense of resilience and promote awareness and skills to manage reintegration processes. BGCA’s logic model is provided below.

The BGCA’s MTA program invites participants from exemplary sites across the globe to take part in a three-day youth leadership development program held in the in the United States. The MTA program is a youth-led, hands-on experience where the participants learn about resiliency, reintegration, and personal development skills from trained peers and adult advisers (known as the Steering Committee). You can learn more about the MTA program and the BGCA more generally over at their website:


Resilience for young people is a reflection of their ability to persevere through and withstand stressors and challenges in life by using adaptive coping mechanisms, such as personal attributes and the support of those around them. In other words, resilience is considered one’s ability to bounce back. The BGCA teaches resilience to young people using the 7 Cs of resilience model (Ginsburg & Jablow, 2005).

Family Reintegration Following Deployment

In military families, a process of reintegration is when a parent comes back to the family home following a sustained period of deployment (Marek et al., 2014). This can be a difficult process for families to manage as they try to balance feelings of excitement with a return to pre-deployment routines and lifestyles. Reintegration can also be a particularly difficult transition for young people to manage; for example, young people are likely to experience development changes while their parent is away on duty, and if these changes are not recognized by the parent, the child can feel disappointed (Huebner et al., 2007).

Study Purpose and Methodology

Main Findings

  • The 7 Cs of resiliency was a helpful framework for enhancing participants’ knowledge of resilience, with the majority of participants being able to successfully describe the 7 Cs. Additionally, participation in the program was associated with growth in developmental outcomes associated with resilience, such as competence and confidence.
  • Participation in MTA was associated with significant increases in knowledge of reintegration. Additionally, most participants correctly defined reintegration. The study’s findings point to a unique approach to preparing for reintegration through a leadership program centered specifically on military youth.
  • Participants reported increases in self-perceived personal growth, reflected through improvements in confidence, competence, responsibility, leadership, and public speaking. There were also improvements in perceptions of leadership skills.
  • Results from follow-up measures highlight how participants made positive contributions to their communities, such as program participation and collaboration with community leaders. Additionally, participants demonstrated a greater understanding of fellow youths’ needs.

Overall, findings from the study identified how the BGCA as an organization, and the MTA program more specifically, provides a service to young people that enhances knowledge of resilience and reintegration and nurtures feelings of personal growth.

Practical implications

In sum, resilience and reintegration knowledge can strengthen military youths’ resolve and promote experiences of personal growth. Programs aiming to promote knowledge of resilience and reintegration would be well advised to include leadership opportunities, youth-led content and delivery, asset-based learning, and the 7 Cs of resilience. It is possible that similar recommendations could be applied to other groups of young people experiencing separation from significant care givers (e.g., incarcerated parents); however, additional research is required.

It should be noted that the findings from research with military youth may not be applicable in different settings. Additionally, our recommendations should be interpreted with caution considering potential limitations of the research (e.g., difficulties to determine exact cause and effect).

What’s Next?

The YDL team at Clemson University continues to partner with the BGCA to evaluate the MTA program and other core components of the organization. Currently, an exciting research project is being conducted to understand the nuances of how the MTA program influences the future trajectories of young people and advisors that take part.

More broadly, we believe future research that explores the benefits of asset- and leadership-based programs for youth who are vulnerable to sustained parental detachment, like military youth, would provide valuable contributions to the field of youth development and produce research that can have a positive applied, social impact.


We would also love to hear what you think future research could do to further our understanding. Feel free to use the comment box provided for this post to share your thoughts!


Like What You’ve Read?

If you’ve got a passion for working with young people and want to further your expertise in youth development through an advanced credential, take note of the points and resources below:

Clemson University offers an online Master of Science degree in youth development leadership (36 credit hours, 12 courses, 2 years) as well as a Graduate Certificate in youth development leadership (15 credit hours, 5 courses). These programs are uniquely designed for professionals working in youth development settings. For more information, visit or email

To connect with or learn about the authors of this research, see the links below:


Department of Defense. (2018). 2018 demographics – Profile of the military community. Retrieved from /2018-demographics-report.pdf.

Ginsburg, K. R., & Jablow, M. M. (2005). Building resilience in children and teens: Giving kids roots and wings. American Academy of Pediatrics.

Huebner, A. J., Mancini, J. A., Wilcox, R. M., Grass, S. R., & Grass, G. A. (2007). Parental deployment and youth in military families: Exploring uncertainty and ambiguous loss. Family Relations, 56(2), 112–122.

Marek, L., Hollingsworth, W. G., D’Aniello, C., O’Rourke, K., Brock, D., Moore, L., & Wiles, B. (2014). Returning home: What we know about the reintegration of deployed service members into their families and communities. NCFR Report Magazine.