Moving across the world is tough for everyone, but it can be hardest for teenagers. This is because teenagers have usually established themselves in their worlds—they’ve figured out who they are, who likes them, what their strengths are, and how to fit in with their particular social circle. Teenagers are old enough to have established roots and roles, but they are still too young to manage their emotions, and as such, are rather short sighted. The following are ways you can help your teenager adjust to life as an expat:
Listen to Your Teenager’s Concerns
You might think this is an obvious think all parents do, but actually, parents in the midst of moving can be so consumed with other issues that they ignore their teenager’s concerns. In fact, it’s not uncommon for parents of teen expats to brush off their teenager’s concerns, telling them blithely that “they’ll do fine with the move”.
Studies show that active listening lowers stress and can help the person experiencing angst to relax. Ask your teenager to express his concerns, and be sure to listen to what he says. Take notes, nod, and resist the temptation to interrupt or belittle his fears. Instead assure your teenager that you will do your best to help him through this, addressing each concern with respect.
Help Your Teenager Overcome the Language Barrier
Teens have a much harder time picking up a new language than younger children do, and this can lead to a sense of isolation. Equip your teen with everything she needs to pick up the language—study guides, CDs, online resources, and books. Enroll her in a class before you move (if possible) so she will have a fundamental understanding of the language. Learn along with your teenager, practicing the new language whenever practical.
Once you move, you may find your teenager is frustrated by how little she can interact with natives. Be sure to connect with out expat families and to plan times with other expat teens so she’ll have someone to talk to in her native language. Don’t force her to speak in the new language when at home—she will need a break from the stimulus of hearing the new language so much each day as she simply lives life in a new country. Instead, engage with her in both languages as seems most appropriate.
Finding the Balance When Keeping in Touch With Friends Back Home
Teenagers have a tendency to want to cling to the familiar, especially if the transition is not going well. They can become obsessive about a long-distance boyfriend or a best friend back home who is willing to email, instant message, Skype, and text for hours each day. Allow your teenager some time to connect with old friends, but limit the time, and encourage relationships with new friends.
Keep in mind your teenager may be frustrated with the available selection of new friends. Depending on the size of your expat high school, your child may have few or many new friends available. If your teenager is in a particularly small school or an area where there are very few expats around, look for suitable native friends and families for your teenager to meet. You may have to take the initiative for your teenager. Social connections are incredibly important to make as a teenager, so prioritize these relationships as much as is possible.
Tackle Dating Challenges With Caution
One of the biggest challenges for teenagers is the fact that they are old enough to be deeply involved with their love relationships. Dating is challenging enough when you’re in your native country, never mine once you’ve moved overseas. Consider the following options for your dating teenager:
If your teenager is a senior and is in a serious relationship, consider the possibility of letting her stay back in the states. You may be in a situation where you have relatives or close friends who could “adopt” your teenager for her senior year of high school, letting her remain in her hometown so she can graduate with her friends and boyfriend. Only consider this option if you believe this is in the best interest for your child and you trust the people back home can handle any potential situations that may arise.
If your teenager moves with you, but is devastated by the distance, consider inviting her boyfriend to come visit you overseas during school breaks. Look into inexpensive communication options such as using a web cam and email as well as long distance phone plans. Watch your teenager carefully; you don’t want her to rely on this long distance relationship to the point of missing out on her expat experience. However, she may benefit from the emotional support of the continuing relationship. Strive for balance.
If your teenagers is interested in dating locals, look for ways to compromise. Invite your daughter’s boyfriend to do activities with your family, and ask to meet his family. Stay as involved as possible, and discuss long-term ramifications of building too deep of a relationship with someone who lives halfway around the world from your family (if you intend to return back to the States). Communication is the key to navigating this tricky territory.
Expect Emotional Outbursts
Teenagers are dealing with raging hormones, which can make them vulnerable to mood swings. Your teenager may love living in a new country one day and then claim to hate it the next day. Keep in mind that your teenager is under a lot of pressure and may need extra patience. The following are strategies for helping your teenager deal with emotional stress:
Consider fostering a pet, such as a cat or dog. Studies show that pet ownership helps emotional resiliency, and that even petting a dog or cat will lower blood pressure and heart rate. Walking a dog relieves stress physically, and the unconditional love offered by a cat or dog can heal your teen’s emotional wounds on rough days. You probably won’t want to buy a pet since you’ll be moving again soon, but fostering can provide a sense of giving back to society while providing a temporary pet for your teenager.
Plan extra time into your daily schedule to accommodate for mood swings. The last thing your stressed teenager needs is for you to be in too much of a hurry to comfort him when he has a melt down. Plan a loose, generous schedule so everyone is sure to get plenty of sleep and to get where they need to be on time without anxiety.
Plan comforting family activities such as family game nights, movie nights, and creative activities. Go on family excursions, exploring the new countryside together. By providing a bonded, comfortable, fun family activity together, you are supplying your teenager with a steadfast foundation upon which he can lean in times of emotional distress.
Moving isn’t easy on teenagers, but you can ease the transition by taking your teenager’s needs into account.
About the Author:
Amanda Tradwick is a grant researcher and writer for CollegeGrants.org. She has a Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Delaware, and has recently finished research on minority grants and texas grants for college students.