Should you let your high school age child talk to a recruiter? This is a tricky question to answer because state law, federal law, and your local school district all have varying rules and requirements when it comes to military recruiting and those who are not of legal age.
The first thing you should consider when weighing this question is the wants and needs of the child, but there are additional factors to consider.
Basic Rules: Age Requirements For Joining The Military
The most important thing a parent needs to know starting out is that the minimum allowable age for making a legally binding commitment to the United States military (regardless of branch) is 17.
That does not mean that a 17-year-old teenager can sign on the dotted line and get a ship out date to basic training. 17-year old recruits must have the permission and participation of their parents in order to commit.
A recruit who is 18 years old is free to commit with or without the approval and participation of the parents.
How To Decide Whether To Let Your Child Talk To A Recruiter
Let’s face it, the real concern many parents have with this issue has nothing to do with a simple conversation between a high school age child and an Army recruiter, Marine Corps recruiter, Air Force, Coast Guard, etc. What many parents are worried about can be described as undue influence.
A recruiter’s job is to sell people on the military lifestyle. This requires giving some version of a sales pitch that sometimes glosses over the hardships of military life in favor of the benefits of having a career in uniform. How can you give your teenage daughter a realistic view of military service and avoid skipping over the harder-to-sell aspects of it?
Taking The First Step Toward Talking To A Recruiter
The first step may be to take matters into your own hands and talk to the recruiter yourself before there is a sit-down with your high-school age student. Remember that recruiters vary as much as any other professional; there are honest recruiters and there are those who don’t always play by the rules. In order to protect your child, you’ll want to know exactly who they will be talking to and what their methods are like.
Listen to your instincts when dealing with a recruiter. One that seems honest and eager to help can take you a long way toward getting realistic expectations about signing up, serving, and training.
But if a recruiter gives you bad vibes, seems willing to cut corners, or does not play by the rules in some way, you should move on and seek a different recruiter or possibly even a different branch of service, depending on individual circumstances.
It’s not that the branch of service is suspect here, but if there is only one recruiter for that branch in your area and that person doesn’t seem trustworthy, you may need to explore a wider range of options. That is not ideal, but it IS realistic.
When talking to a recruiter on behalf of your son or daughter, be sure to lay out some boundaries if you feel they are necessary. Some parents won’t allow the recruiter to talk to their school-age teenagers unless the parents are always present. If you feel that is necessary, explain your boundaries to the recruiter as early as possible and make it known that if the recruiter violates your boundaries, the conversation is completely over never to be resumed again. Good recruiters will understand.
The Second Step
Concerned parents should not stop with having a private conversation with the recruiter. They should definitely be present for the early discussions. Some recruiters will ask for time alone with your son or daughter.
You’ll have to decide how comfortable with that you are. Any high-schooler who becomes serious about military service will HAVE to have a private conversation with a military representative at some point, but if your kids are NOT of legal age to enter military service (17 or older) it may be wise to delay such private discussions until age 17 if you have concerns. You have the right as a parent to know what your child is being told by the recruiting office until they reach the age of 18.
Over time many parents realize the recruiter they are working with is someone they can trust and do relax more once they feel that is true. Don’t be surprised if you change your mind about private conversations between your teenager and the person from the military recruiting office.
As with other areas in life, trust in this area is earned and you may be more willing to let such conversations happen as more trust is established. Remember, good recruiters are there to help and that includes putting your mind at ease about your concerns.
Ask The Right Questions
When you talk alone with a recruiter, and when you sit in with your child, be sure to ask some very important questions:
- Will a new recruit be able to get a secured job before shipping out to basic training? If not, why not, and what is the process for landing a military career field specialty before, during or after boot camp?
- At what point is my child free to terminate basic training and return home? And at what point does that become no longer possible under the law?
- What is the TOTAL number of years required for a military commitment and what does it mean to be placed in the Inactive Ready Reserve? Under what circumstances can a member of the Inactive Reserve be reactivated for military duty against their will?
- What if my child has made a mistake in joining a branch of service and wants to transfer to a different one? How does that work and when is it possible for the first time?
- What about choosing a career field that is wrong for the recruit? How long must they realistically wait to switch career fields and what is the procedure?
- At what point is the recruit fully committed to military service without being able to separate without penalty?
What The Recruiter Might Or Might Not Tell You
There are laws that govern under what circumstances recruiters can talk to your child including how and when they have access to high school property. You should become familiar with the rules as defined by the high school plus any applicable state laws that may govern such contacts and when they may occur.
Furthermore, new recruits often ship out to boot camp without fully understanding what their options are if they feel they have made a mistake and don’t wish to continue the training. A new recruit is sworn in at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) before being sent out to Basic Training. For many, this creates an assumption that they have committed fully and can never back out.
The reality is that until you have graduated from Basic Training and head off to Technical School, all new recruits have the option to terminate their training and be sent home. Those who wish to do so will find that the process is NOT easy, and the training instructors at Boot Camp often have to help those who simply find the process very difficult to understand that they don’t REALLY want to leave, they are just struggling with a new set of requirements and discipline.
And in many cases this is absolutely true. You’ll get many stories from boot camp graduates about “almost wanting to give up” but persevering in spite of the difficulty. But not all recruits fit into this category–some really have made a mistake and need to know how to exit basic training.
On a side note, the author of this article experienced this very issue with a fellow Air Force basic trainee who joined because (in the trainee’s words) his girlfriend “made him”. This unfortunate recruit was sent a “Dear John” breakup letter soon after his arrival in the training environment and was soon no longer among the trainees in that particular squadron. Sometimes the motivation to join the military isn’t sustainable, as this incident indicates.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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