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What to do When Your Teen Wants to Enlist in the Military

photo by James J. Lee

photo by James J. Lee

Your teen has finally become a high school senior! Congratulations!! Now all the hard work and preparation for adulthood has come to a peak! They will be caught up in a whirlwind of planning and preparing for that one final step to adulthood...graduation! You are so excited and then...your teen says, "Mom, Dad, I want to enlist! I talked to the recruiter today at school." You try to hide the horror in your heart with a pasted on smile and say, "Really??" When, not so deep inside, you want to scream, "You've GOT to be kidding me!!!" While you pretend to hear their well-rehearsed response, take a deep breath and think before you go completely off the deep end. I have two sons who each gave me the above scenario. We have all survived, intact. You want to know what to do when your teen wants to enlist in the military? I did too, hopefully sharing our story will help. Please understand that I realize some of you may be dealing with a daughter making this choice. I was fortunate enough to only deal with my sons on this issue. I still believe the overall concepts will be helpful.

One son was the child who had wanted to be a Marine since he was 5 years old. Ever since the day two Marines helped to push our dead mini-van out of an intersection, he would say, "when I grow up and become a Marine......." and finish with whatever was going on in his little head at the time. He was strong-minded and solid. He was constantly on the go, always busy, always doing something. He was a football player, farmhand, and all around outdoor kind of guy. He was always searching for something to fix, break or try out. He spent many nights camping, hunting or working on cars. For him, it made sense. That or he did a wonderful job of giving me 12 years of transitioning into it!

The other was my "baby"! My small, sweet child so full of laughter and hugs that even when he was gone to Gramma's, he was missed. He was the child that I opened my own preschool for, so he would have that experience and I would have a little more time with him before he grew up! He would check with Mom before making any decision, always wanting to please. He would rather be with family than friends, "cuz we just do things differently I guess." He was a planner, a saver, a person who liked things a certain way. Things had a place and they were in it in his room. He had a steady girlfriend and a job. For him, I was panicked! To be honest, I was terrified!! It was NOT the life for him! Just ask me - I am his Mother! I know these things!

I spent many years raising my children to make their own decisions. However, it was hard for me to relinquish control over this one. I tried to involve them in as many decisions and plans as possible over the years, so I knew they would know how to make a good decision but could I let them? Can you let your child make and follow their own decision about enlisting? Here are some things I did to help my sons each make an informed decision about their future.

The first thing I did was sit down with my son and talk to him about the importance of making an "informed decision" about his future. I promised to consider all the information and respect his decision, but made them each aware that i would NOT consent to anything before they graduated nor until they were 18. I made them promise NOT to make any decision quickly and to give it a minimum of 90 days consideration first. We talked about what they would need to understand before I would support this type of decision. I also gave them my word that if this WAS in fact the right decision for them and they could convince me to ignore my heart, I would support them 100% and without fail they would be able to count on me each step of the way every day.

Then I called the High School Principal and Counselor and asked about the Military Recruiters who had visited the school. They gave me the names and phone numbers and shared some insight on what the recruiters had been sharing with the students. I talked with my son and asked him to set up a time for the recruiter to meet me. I told him, "Let the recruiter do your work convincing me and if it is all wrong, I'll be mad at them, not you!!" He went for it! Little brother followed his example and set up an appointment before telling me in the first place.

Next, I made a list of all the reasons he should not enlist. This included everything from "Iraq is hot in the summer" to "people die." I cried. I begged him to consider that they were selling him a product. They were used car salesmen! I prayed. I prayed a lot.

Then, we met at a neutral place, Dairy Queen for one son, the U.S.M.C Recruiting Substation for the other. This gave me the opportunity to walk out and leave if I became overwhelmed. It also limited the interruptions as well. We talked about what they could offer my son, what my son wanted from the service and what the opportunities were that were available. We talked about scholarships for college and the opportunity to "see the world" as well as the chance to be a part of a unique brotherhood. Then I asked the hard questions. Did you ever NEED to talk to someone from home and couldn't? Were you ever lonely? What did you do without that you missed the most? Did you have to kill anyone and watch them die? Did you experience any of your buddies dying? Did it change you? Why should my son go through that?

The Recruiters for each branch of the armed services were completely honest. They looked my son in the eye and told them about the hard parts of serving. They told them about going for weeks, months even without hearing a voice from home. They told of eating foods that made them sick, being so hot they thought their brains were fried, and going without food for days. They shared with my sons the pain and the sacrifice. Then they shared with them the satisfaction and pride they felt when they had made it through the trials. They talked about the many places, people and lifelong friends they had made. Each son was given the entire picture. My oldest son learned he had to drop weight to even be eligible. We talked to the recruiter in May. He weighed 289 pounds. I knew he was positive that this was the right decision. I hoped he wouldn't be able to meet the weight guidelines. He had to drop 88 pounds. His weight for his height was 201 pounds. He had a year to do it, but he had to keep it off too! We all know how hard that can be! He lost 67 pounds within his 90 days that I had asked for him to wait. I knew beyond any doubt this was his heart's desire. I signed the papers. His Recruiting officer helped us to track down his father and secure his signature as well. He was on his way.

My younger son is a different story. We went through the meeting and he was still dead set on enlisting. Older brother said, "Mom, this is not for him! Make him change his mind!!" I encouraged him to attend the Poolee Activities and Events (a Poolee is a recruit in the enlistment pool who is waiting to graduate). These events and activities help them to get a taste of what it is like to attend boot camp (that's another story). His final decision came when he attended a 4 day "mock boot camp" and went 4 days without sleep. He had no contact with his family and he realized he wanted to be more connected than that allowed. He really was a family man. He admires his big brother and stays actively involved in keeping connected with him while he is serving our country. He is currently attending college near home and working on becoming a law enforcement officer. It was the right decision for him.

Each Recruiting Substation has its own activities and levels of involvement for parents. My sons wanted to be Marines and so that is what I know to share. They had family nights for parents to see what their teens would experience. They had Drill Instructors who came and ran the Poolees through their paces. They have websites that share information for parents. The main thing to remember is IF your teen decides to enlist anyway, they need your support to make it through from the day they sign those papers until the day they return home. Get involved, ask questions, and give them your support! It is the best gift you can give your teen!

I am proud of my Marine son and just as proud of his little brother who is also following his dream. I know they are both happy with their choices, and I am glad to have been a part of it. Be true to your word....support them in whatever their decision is and you will be happy too!

© 2011 Debbie Carey

Share Your Thoughts And Comments Here

Audrey on September 30, 2019:

Dear Debbie, this was helpful. While I have nothing but respect and thank all the people that served and serve our Country, I have no desire for my son to be one of them. He is 17 a senior and has been talking about enlisting for years. While I thought this would go away, it's not and I'm scared to death. Thank you for sharing.

Jeannie on September 28, 2018:

Dear Debbie, I cried all the way through this post! My son just told us 3 weeks ago, he wants to go into the Marines. The military is something I never wanted to a part of our family. I am thankful for all those that serve and feel so blessed to have the freedom in the US that we have because of them, but I am really struggling with his decision:( Thank you for your honesty and words of wisdom and advice. I really needed to hear all of it! I do trust in the Lord to care for him and protect him, but my heart just aches at the thought of it all !!!

Please pray for me as we walk through this over the next months. He does not graduate until June 2019 so we have time to prepare.



Debbie Carey (author) from Riverton, KS, USA on February 14, 2012:


This was the most difficult thing I have faced as a parent. My son just returned last Sunday from what will be his last deployment. He will complete his enlistment requirements of 5 years of active duty in May. It has been a learning process, but I will say that I LOVE the way we have all grown closer to the Lord through all of this. Looking back, I am so thankful for God's wonderful protective hand that he has had over my son throughout his service! I will be praying for you and your son and family. Keep looking up and He will lead. God bless you all! Thanks for reading and I am glad it helped. It was good therapy!

Nina Enid on February 12, 2012:

Thank you so much for writing such an outstandingly honest article. I am facing this situation right now and I pray for God's direction, guidance and strength for my son and our family. May God bless you and yours.

Debbie Carey (author) from Riverton, KS, USA on September 26, 2011:


You are truly from a service family - you must be proud! Awesome! My son did lose that weight and continues to work to keep it off to maintain! I think the service teaches them to channel their energy and builds great confidence. All of my children have been very driven toward their future at very young ages, so I am not sure what I would have done! Of course if I had served like you, I would probably have encouraged it as well! Thanks for reading and following! I love the idea of the up button for our kids! God Bless!

Mara Clemente from Borinken, Loíza on September 26, 2011:

Dear prektjr.dc,

My son has been in the Air Force active duty for a year now. I served the Air National Guard for 21 years. My father served for 27 years before me.

Boys especially need a structured specific plan in their lives. I don't say the military is the needed cookie cutter solution, but if one doesn't have a detailed plan for them to follow, you might as well let them be.

He lost all that weight almost against your will, says a lot about him!

I forced my son to go into the military, and he loves it. The reason I did this was because he didn't have a specific plan for his life. Had he had one, I would've let him be.

Voted up and I'm following!

Debbie Carey (author) from Riverton, KS, USA on June 25, 2011:


Thank you first of all for your sacrifice and service. I will definitely look that up as he just got married. He was scheduled to deploy to Libya and they bumped up the deployment by 4 months and so the night he proposed, they eloped! I am not sure he will stay in, I know that being married does change his point of view on deployment. Before it was an adventure, now it is a separation. This is deployment number 3 overseas. He was a member of the Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team and is now with the Command Element on this tour. We have been blessed and look forward to his return preferably soon! Thanks for the information, I will check it out!

JeniferD from Sin City Nevada on June 25, 2011:

Joining the U.S. Military is a big step for anybody, especially these days. As for me? I served 20 years and have four overseas tours (Asia and Europe) three state-side tours (CO, KS, & CA), and two combat tours (Persian Gulf War, Operation Joint Guard II). The separation from family can be difficult, especially during deployments. However, there is something you should know; look up U.S.F.S.P.A. on the web. If your enlisted son gets married, he needs to know about this because I seriously doubt anybody in his chain of command has briefed him on this item if he plans to make the Military service a career. Okay?

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