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The lived experiences of highly mobile military adolescents in search of their identity: An interpretive phenomenological study

APA Citation:

Thomas, J. S., Smart, D., Severtsen, B., & Haberman, M. R. (2021). The lived experiences of highly mobile military adolescents in search of their identity: An interpretive phenomenological study. Journal of Adolescent Research. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/07435584211006469

Abstract Created by REACH:

Many military-connected adolescents frequently move residences, which may have consequences for their mental health and identity development. In this study, 11 military-connected adolescents participated in semi-structured interviews to discuss their experiences with moving frequently and offered feedback on how healthcare professionals (e.g., nurses) can support this population. Adolescents identified challenges in forming relationships and developing their identities. They also encouraged healthcare professionals to be sensitive to the mental and social challenges associated with the highly mobile military lifestyle.


Mental health

Branch of Service:


Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Child of a service member or veteran


Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)


Qualitative Study


Thomas, Jennifer S., Smart, Denise, Severtsen, Billie, Haberman, Mel R.


The challenges that military adolescents face, including frequent relocations, pose potential risks to their identity development. The central aim of this study is to understand the impact that frequent relocations have on the identity development of highly mobile military adolescents. Military adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 years were interviewed. An interpretive phenomenological design was employed to inform the interview and analytic approach. An inductive approach using humanistic interpretation through Hermeneutic circles was conducted. Four overarching themes were identified, including self-perception in the world, building relationships, overwhelming emotions, and fostering healthy transitions. Several subthemes developed and gave rise to common adolescent experiences. Military adolescents facing frequent relocations experience a series of identity crises that are often masked in daily life and kept secret from peers and family. Healthy transitions require the adolescent and family to openly and repeatedly explore the impact of relocations on the inner and social life of adolescents. This study calls for future research on the military adolescent-provider relationship to explore how to better help meet the needs of this population from a health care standpoint.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

SAGE Publications

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Pacific Lutheran University, JST
Washington State University, DS
Washington State University, BS
Washington State University, MRH


adolescents, identity development, military, phenomenology, qualitative research

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