Under the controversial No Child Left Behind Act as well as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, recruiters for the U.S. armed forces are given free access to public schools and public school databases for recruiting purposes.
To protect children and other vulnerable populations from being preyed upon by military recruiters, organizations such as Stop Recruiting Kids and On Earth Peace have partnered to advocate for a society in which the military is only able to recruit adults, who these groups say are better equipped mentally to handle such a decision.
“Military recruiting intentionally targets the rural and urban poor, especially young people of color. These are groups that have fewer opportunities for economic advancement outside the military,” the Stop Recruiting Kids website says.
While it could be argued that there are populations of vulnerable adults that military recruiters could take advantage of, Stop Recruiting Kids argues on its website that children, more so than adults, are not quite able to judge the extent to which enlisting in the military is a life-altering decision.
Military recruiters are likely aware of this, as some have acknowledged that “if joining the military is not considered by age 17, it likely will not be in later years.” This may be why military recruiters have even developed a presence in some elementary schools.
Describing itself not as anti-military, but as pro-child, Stop Recruiting Kids has launched a petition asking lawmakers to pass a piece of legislation known as the Student Privacy Protection Act. Under this bill, a student’s personal information would only be shared with military recruiters if he or she agreed to opt-in to the military’s public school recruiting efforts.
In a Feb. 26 newsletter, Bill Scheurer, executive director of On Earth Peace, wrote that his organization had opted to work with Stop Recruiting Kids to ensure that parents consented to their child being contacted by a recruiter first. His argument was that parents, especially peace activists, have the right to protect their kids from military service, just as they protect them from the risks associated with alcohol and tobacco use.
“The federal government spends billions of dollars a year on military recruiting and advertising,” Scheurer said, “much of it directed at teenagers as their target market. This is how tobacco companies used to recruit the next generation of customers for their products.”
The American Public Health Association agrees that adolescent brains are not developed enough to make such a decision, and it has also expressed concerns about children deciding to join the military, given how aggressive and predatory recruiters can be.
For example, the APHA said recruiters often attend athletic events, “volunteer” to teach gym classes, chaperone dances, tutor children, bring large armored vehicles to schools for demonstrations and help students make career choices — all without mentioning the physical and psychological stress they can endure by joining the armed forces.
Since most young adults are more likely to take risks than any other age group, young military recruits’ risky behavior coupled with increased mental health risks from joining the military, has been found by the APHA and others to be a messy combination.
According to the APHA, “a study of mental disorders in the U.S. military showed the highest rates of all disorders, including alcohol abuse, anxiety syndromes, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among the youngest cohort, those aged 17 through 24 years,” which is why the group has asked Congress to “remove the NCLB mandate that public high schools admit military recruiters.”
“Military recruiters have sufficient access to adult recruits through community recruiting stations without accessing adolescents in the public schools,” the APHA said.
While the APHA, On Earth Peace and Stop Recruiting Kids all understand the role the military plays in defending the U.S., the groups argue that their concern is focused on how young people are being recruited.
On its website, Stop Recruiting Kids says that opportunities and benefits awarded to those who join the military such as an education, economic opportunities, character development and social skills, should be awarded to all children, and that once we have a society where these opportunities are available for all, it will be safer for children to make the choice of whether to enlist or not.