Teenage years are tough enough as they are. They are dealing with plenty of issues – trying to become independent; trying to figure out who they are and what they want out of life; totally tied into their friends and their social lives. It can be a challenging period of years.
Written exclusively for Expat Network by Kristin Savage of Studicus
Re-locating, especially to another country, can be a devastating change, and one that you will have to carefully plan for.
Probably the one group of teens who may be able to cope with constant moves are those who have a parent in the military. They are moved from base to base throughout their growing years and have developed their coping mechanisms along the way.
But what if you have been settled in one place for a long period of time and are suddenly looking at a move overseas? Perhaps your company is sending you; maybe there is a job opportunity that you cannot turn down. Whatever the reason, you are now faced with uprooting your teen from his or her comfortable and secure environment and forcing them into the unknown. It’s not going to be easy. There will be anger, resentment, and some typical “heartbreak,” and you will need to be prepared.
So here are some tips for reducing the issues as much as possible:
1. Empathy is Critical
You may be excited about this new chapter in your life. Do not expect your teen to feel the same way. Put yourself in his or her shoes and see this major change through their eyes. They are giving up all that they have known to be their lives right now. Do not criticize their anger, their sadness, etc. Instead, accept it, tell them you understand, and allow them those feelings.
2. Explain the Reasons for the Move
Your teen is a rational human being. If this move is necessary or if it means many positive results for the family as a whole, you need to explain these clearly and in terms of the benefit for the whole family. While this will not make your teen any happier about the move, it will help them to understand why you are doing this.
3. Have an Exploratory Trip if Possible
If your company is moving you, negotiate an exploratory trip for the family. After all, you have to check out all of the details involved in the move – housing, banking, driving, educational options, educational options, etc. If this is not possible, then at least get online and show your teen the “lay of the land.” With all of the technology for real-time tours, your teen can put himself in the environment and experience it first-hand. You want to show those amazing places and experiences that your teen will be able to see and have in their new “home.”
4. If You Have a Senior
This is a special circumstance. If your teen is a senior in high school, moving him or her right now is truly not a good idea. If you can find a trusted family, truly consider letting your teen stay behind in order to finish his or her high school career. They can always join you after graduation, spend the summer in their new “home,” and then go on to college if that is in their plans. And who knows? You may want to look at international college options they may have in your new home. What a grand experience this could be for your high school grad.
5. Consider Trying to Set Up “Pen Pal” relationships with teens in the new country.
This is so easy to do right now. There are international pen pals available in almost every country in the world. Having personal contact with a peer in the new country and the relationship that could develop, can show your teen that peers all over the world really have the same interests, priorities, and social activities that he or she has. And if that one or more pen pals happen to be in the city to which you are moving, all the better. They can meet up in person once you get there.
6. After the Move – Get Your Teen Involved Quickly
Obviously, the most important involvement will be in schooling. There are public, private and international schools in most major cities overseas. Your teen should have a direct hand in school selection – it is one area of his or her life over which he or she can feel some control. Other elements of this transition may include these things:
Your teen gets to decorate his/her own room. Again, these small areas of control can have a larger psychological impact.
Be certain that all of the technology is in place for your teen to communicate with his or her friends back home, as often as possible, and this includes video access.
If your budget will allow, let your teen have a best friend come and visit or to take a couple of visits back home within that first year. Remember, assimilation into a new environment and a new culture is a process, and that process may take a good amount of time. Over that time, though, if you can be a catalyst for meeting new teens, even Americans who are also expats, that assimilation will gradually occur. In the meantime, be sympathetic, be empathetic, and tell your teen you understand their feelings.
Your teen did not ask to be moved. When it is thrust upon him, he will feel a big sense of powerlessness. And with that powerlessness comes a host of other emotions, many of them not so good. You must anticipate these and plan in advance for how you will help your teen cope. These six tips are certainly worth looking at.
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