Relocating Children – Teenagers
The teenage years are rarely easy, even in the most stable environment. Issues that this age group wrestle with – fitting in, body changes, raging hormones – all are made ten times worse when you take away their fragile sense of stability and control, and provide them with a whole new set of social rules.. Uh oh – stormy weather ahead.
The good news is that teenagers who master the art of relocation become much more comfortable in their own skin and better able to adapt to change than those who never have to experience moving. They are more aware of the infinite variety in the world, and less anxious about the inevitable changes of life. Helping them have a positive relocation experience, however, is key to how they will face future challenges. They will be very concerned with fitting in, with making friends and being accepted, and whether they will be viewed as ‘different’ and ‘outsiders’.
Most of the advice for this age group involves giving both a sense of control, and the freedom to choose how they create their new identity. Exposure to their new peer group before the move allows them to begin the mental transition, so try to make an informal visit to the various schools that they might attend, and encourage discussion and questions from your child. Look for schools that have a greater global mobility amongst their students and have protocols in place for managing their introduction to the school. Take note of the clothing styles, accessories and ‘toys’, and be prepared to go shopping with your teenager if they feel the need. Deeper emotional issues may have to be addressed later – at this point, they just need to be comfortable enough to enter the new environment, and be confident that they can blend in.
Sports teams, after school clubs and enrichment activities are as important as academics – they are a great place for making friends in a less threatening environment, so you are likely have a quicker, less painful move if your child is productively occupied and making friends in a structured environment. Again, the support of friends from their old home makes a huge difference, both in validating their feelings and allowing them to discuss their frustrations. Most teenagers spend a huge amount of time talking to friends, and one of the advantage of the electronic age is that it no longer requires those friends to be physically present. Remember that their time at school will initially be very draining – not just from the strain of the educational requirements, but also the emotional aspect of trying to understand the social rules, the behavior patterns and and how they might fit in. I have one child who views the entire school as a potential source of friends and dives right in, and another who spends the first three months mostly alone, quietly deciding who to be friends with. Both eventually make lasting friendships, but it is a heartwrenching process watching from the sidelines.
One of the most helpful strategies I have used as a parent is to plan activities with my children to bridge the gap between leaving old friends and making new. Sadly for me, the activities the children choose mainly involve physical discomfort and expense – theme parks, paintballing and the cinema feature heavily. It does mean however, that they have something to talk about when they finally do speak to another human being, and that we have some great family memories before they get sucked into the social whirl.
And speaking of the social whirl – get to know the parents. If you expect your children to be able to interact socially, you should be setting a good example. It gives you a very good way of finding out what roadbumps may lie ahead, both from their children, and those in the community. It’s always better to discover that they are nudists / arms dealers / convicted felons before your child heads off for a sleepover..