Has the pendulum swung too far from face-to-face communication among military spouses?

The youngest spouses have been raised on social media, often with an expectation they'll get what they need online. But they're finding that's not all they need, said Corie Weathers, the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year.

Face-to-face mentoring is slowly disappearing, Weathers said in a recent roundtable discussion about bridging the gap between generations of military spouses. She said spouses need to talk to other spouses to gain wisdom from those who have been living the military lifestyle.

When Weathers surveyed military spouses about whether the online community was giving them all the connection they needed, about 75 percent of the 400 respondents said no.

Technology enables spouses in different geographic areas to connect, but many think that isn't enough. "They're feeling isolated," Weathers said. "They're feeling like they don't have the information they need. They're wondering where are the play groups, where are the other spouses" locally, she said.

Isolation can take various forms — and these days can easily be caused by the rising problem of cyberbullying in the military spouse culture. "Our youngest generation was hoping [the online community] would be very supportive, and they're finding it's not as safe a place as they thought," Weathers said. "I've heard spouses say: 'I want to ask certain questions, but I'm afraid if I ask it the wrong way I'm going to get attacked for it and I don't want to see my face plastered on a cyberbullying website, so I'm just not going to ask it at all.'

"It comes back to face-to-face, and if they're not getting that, then our spouses are not talking at all," Weathers said.

Spouses also may find it difficult to get to family readiness group meetings when they have Scout meetings, sports practices and games, church meetings, as well as jobs.

And like generations of spouses before her, Weathers has seen the "ebb and flow" of interest in spouse gatherings — more during deployments, less when their service members return. A further complication, Weathers said, is a decline in funding to provide support such as child care for gatherings.

The pendulum must be nudged back toward the middle, Weathers said: "How do we use technology to distribute the information in a way that everybody gets it, but still have a face-to-face connection?"

The recent situation at Fort Jackson, S.C. in the aftermath of the floods illustrates the issue, she said. Officials were doing a great job distributing information on Facebook, she said. Not everybody is on Facebook, so they started automated phone calls, but some people wouldn't sign on to that. So people returned to going door to door.

People marveled that a military spouse knocked on their door and asked if they had the information they needed, and that military police were passing out fliers to make sure people knew the water wasn't drinkable.

Weathers sees signs that that the culture is shifting. For example, the website In-dependent.org, created by military spouses for military spouses, had an online wellness summit with videos available later.

Events like this give spouses "the feeling of face-to-face, of a person that's here for me, yet it's accessible to everybody later," Weathers said.

Her survey shows spouses want to be mentored, and are willing to be mentors. Many "mid-senior" spouses, as Weathers calls them, have small children, have gone through at least two deployments, and are exhausted in a different way.

"We didn't realize we suddenly achieved this place where we can now mentor," she said. "I think we've been so busy because we've exhausted ourselves ... and we haven't been able to step up and start that."

But it's the very experience of those war-weary spouses that will be so invaluable to younger spouses.■

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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