October 1, 2020
By Matthew Oh, co-founder of Bloom: Empowering the Military Teen
Military teens are a lot like the smartphones we hold so dear. We possess many unique “apps”, experiences, and abilities gained from the places we’ve lived and the people we’ve met. Our connections span the globe like the vast reach of the internet, giving us a unique perspective on the nation we call home and on life as a whole. Yes, we have cracked screens and glitches, but that’s inevitable given the tremendous burdens we bear and the “memory” we hold.
(I’m going to keep going with this cheesy extended metaphor, so if you don’t like it, then find another article to read, hater.)
With all of the events and information we have to process, it’s a miracle that we still function. But we press on, primarily thanks to one simple action: plugging in.
Our smartphones have a lifeline that gives them energy to function. A cord connects them to a power source, just as relationships connect us to OUR vital power sources. Our outlet on the wall is our family and close friends, who stay close and charge us no matter what. (What’s that? Well, that’s amazing that you have a portable charger, you high-tech zoomer, but I really don’t care. The metaphor is still valid. Stop being so literal!)
However, the charging block isn’t the only thing a device needs to be plugged into in order to thrive and live up to its full potential. It needs to hook up to a computer in order to back up its memory and download new material. It needs to connect to a speaker or headphones in order for others to hear what it has to say. It needs wi-fi to connect to others and access information (Okay, yes, I know that’s not exactly “plugging in,” wise guy).
So how does that connect to our lives as military kids? How do we plug in without a literal cord, and is it even worth it to do so when we move so often?
I’ll begin by tackling the “why”, because I’m sure you’ll have heard this advice in some way, shape, or form before. As someone who has moved eight times, I can confirm that when we move to a new place, it is tempting to isolate ourselves. We don’t want to go to socials, meet new friends, and explore the region, because it reminds us that we’re not where we want to be. Plugging in takes motivation and strength, but yields tremendous rewards. The most obvious benefit is that you (probably) won’t be miserable. You’ll become part of a new community that will offer you unique experiences and challenge you in new ways. You’ll gain new knowledge and skills that will stay with you and shape you throughout your entire life. You may even meet new life-long friends to add to your “charging block”.
This is easier said than done, so how do we stretch out our cords and plug ourselves into our communities?
The first step is always to remind yourself “why”. The antisocial feelings you experience when you first move somewhere could severely limit your desire to plug in. Looking beyond your present emotions and reminding yourself that plugging in will pay off in the long run is crucial in motivating yourself to keep going. Try writing out your feelings, or talking about them with your family members or friends. Maybe your parents will force you to go out to a party when you don’t want to, and you’ll end up meeting some cool people. I’m definitely not saying to overdo it, after all many of us need some space when we’re grieving. Just don’t let your emotions get the best of you, and be willing to get out of your comfort zone to move on. It takes will power and strength, but you have that already! After all, you’re a military kid!
To get started, try finding a connection that doesn’t require a long cord. Meet a neighbor, or have your parents introduce you to their coworkers’ kids. In a military community, you can’t be the only new kid, so find others that are in the same boat and make connections together. If you see someone at a gathering who’s by themself, go up and introduce yourself. It takes courage, but it may be worth it! Is there a basketball court or soccer field near your neighborhood? An arts and crafts center or bowling alley on post? Use these facilities to your advantage to break the ice with new friends and get to know people in a non-awkward way.
This next step doesn’t have to be done right away, but should be done sooner rather than later. Pull out your extension cord and find a place to plug in away from military life. On Bloom, I wrote an article a while back entitled “Planting a Seed: Five Reasons it Pays to Have an Off-Post Community,” which outlines the reasons that this is beneficial. In summary, having an off-post community gives you fresh perspectives on life and our country, an escape from the stress of the military, new cultural adventures, the possibility of extraordinary opportunities, and roots to come back to. Whether it be a religious organization, sports team, club, or volunteering/job, having friends and activities off-post is a great way to plug in and become part of the local community.
Finally, get involved in any way you possibly can. Join a club at school! Start a study group! Join band, choir, orchestra, or drama! Do a sport! Find something you love doing and don’t hide your interests, and like-minded people will naturally gravitate toward you. Not that this happens instantaneously, of course, because relationships take effort and time. But if you’re patient, and put yourself out there (while being respectful of others, of course), things will start to fall into place.
It’s also important to pace yourself. Personally, I like to dive in right off the bat, but I’m not you. Some people make connections quickly and easily. For others, it takes more time and work. Just because others are plugging in quickly doesn’t mean you have to; remember to connect at a pace that’s right for you. No one knows you better than you do, so if you need space or alone time, be sure to give yourself some for the sake of your mental health. Too much alone time is unhealthy, but in small amounts it can be very helpful.
Connections are supposed to relieve stress and bring joy, not the other way around. If the effort it takes to connect causes you anxiety and misery, take a step back and rest, but don’t give up. Some attempts to plug in may fail, and that’s normal. But keep reminding yourself WHY you’re trying to connect, and push through the challenges.
Don’t let the cracks on your screen or limited service hinder you. You were built to withstand the impact; don’t hesitate to display your features for your surrounding community. Utilize the knowledge and resources you’ve downloaded to plug in and blossom in your new location. You can do this!