If your son or daughter wants to join the army aged 16 or 17 then they'll need your permission first. There are good reasons to wait until your child turns 18, which is what many parents do. Whichever choice you make, this page offers some advice.
Joining at 16 or 17
There are some downsides to signing up at 16 or 17. At that age, your child is:
- More likely to be get a frontline job in the infantry or armoured corps, where training and education are more basic than many other army jobs and the risks in war are much higher.
- More likely to be injured out of training or drop out for some other reason, leaving him or her out of education and out of a job.
- Less likely to be promoted through the ranks.
- Going to miss out on the two years of extra full-time education after age 16 that most young people now complete.
- More vulnerable to the army's rough edges - bullying and harassment are common and are harder to deal with at a younger age.
All the above is based on information the army collects every year.
Joining at 18 or over
If your child waits until he/she turns 18, he/she:
- Will have more army jobs to choose from (and more jobs in the navy and air force too).
- Will be less likely to be injured or to drop out during training.
- Will have had more of a chance to finish full-time education and get good qualifications for the future.
- Will be more mature, better able to make the right decision, and also better able to cope with some of the downsides of army life.
- Will get to decide for themselves to join up, as an adult, without having to ask for your permission.
If you want your child to wait until they're older before they sign up, some of these points might help when you explain your decision.
Giving your consent while your child is under 18
If you are thinking of consenting to your child's enlistment, this is what you need to know:
- Your child is not allowed to apply online without your permission, but there's nothing to stop them either - they just tick a box on the form to say you've agreed to the application.
- If the application goes ahead, then your child will spend a weekend at Recruit Selection, where potential recruits are tested before they are offered a job. Your child can't go to this unless you sign a consent form first.
- If the army offers your child a job, you'll be asked to sign another form to consent to your child's enlistment. The form is sent to the home address provided by your child. Both parents must sign if they live together, otherwise only one parent needs to sign.
- Once your child has enlisted you can't withdraw your consent - your child is legally bound to the army from this point.
- Your child is not allowed to leave the army during the first six weeks. It's against the law to leave in this time, although the army hasn't prosecuted anyone under 18 for doing this for quite a while.
- After the first six months, if your child has turned 18 then there is no right to leave at all until age 22. Go to 'When can I leave' to see the rules in more detail.
If you can, be sure at the beginning that you definitely want your child to sign up. Once your child has applied he or she will be hoping to enlist and so it can hard to change your mind half-day through the process, although you can at any point up to enlistment day.
Remember: If you're not sure about signing your child into the army, there's nothing wrong with asking him or her to wait - a lot of parents do this. Joining at 18 or over is generally the better choice for your child and the safer one.
If you have any questions about this then you or your child can contact us.
The first of the films below was filmed by corporals at the army training centre for 16 year olds in Harrogate.
The second shows an infantry veteran and his mum, who are critical of the army recruiting people as young as 16.