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How To Help Your Teen Cope With Family Relocation

Moving a child is never easy and the problems of doing so only increase with age. Just ask any teenager who moved from one school to another. For many reasons, teens prefer to stay put and when they have to move, they may make life difficult for parents and siblings. The good news is that by keeping a few things in mind, the move can be a positive experience – for everyone.

The Friend Factor

Friends are possibly the most important thing in a teen's life. No matter how volatile these relationships may be, they still count for a great deal of a teen's time and energy. Kelly Croslis of Whitehall, Pa., found this out when she told her teens that they were moving from the place they had lived for four years. The navy family moved many times when the children were younger, but this time was different. "The girls were not happy about it, but we told them it would be good to be back around family and it would be our final move since their dad was retiring from service," she says.

Steven Atkins, psychologist and school consultant from Lebanon, N.H., believes that teens have a good reason for their initial anger. "Imagine striving to develop peer relationships and to understand the subtle rules associated with friendships and going to school," he says. "Moving into adolescence, we all are wrestling with understanding the rules. Then suddenly you are asked to move, often without a vote ... due to parents' needs."

Trying to fit into a new school, learning a new set of rules and a new way to blend in is frustrating to the teen who wants to be both an independent individual and yet still fly under the radar of peer scrutiny.

No wonder many teens look at moving as a crisis of epic proportions!

Dealing With Change

Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, a licensed clinical social worker and author of the book, Motherhood Without Guilt: Being the Best Mom You Can Be and Feeling Great About It (Sourcebooks, 2004), believes that another thing parents need to understand about their teen's reluctance to move is their need for constancy. "Teens like consistency and predictability," she says. "Change is hard for most people, but teens in particular because so much within them is changing; they like to have the rest of their lives to be comfortable and familiar."

Because of the uncertainty caused by moving, teens may become anxious and apprehensive. They may fear not fitting into a new school or making new friends, especially those that had difficultly in the past with such issues. These fears are very real and may increase the risk for already vulnerable teens.

Another challenge your teen may face when moving is the possibility of losing credits if they move to a school with different requirements. The new school may also have higher or lower academic expectations.

Helping With the Adjustment

Even though the move may be a difficult one, there are things parents can do to help teens adjust. Rosenberg says, if at all possible, parents should find out about extracurricular activities even before the family moves. "Sign your student up for sports or whatever clubs you can in advance," she says. "Many high schools allow prospective students to 'shadow' a current student, so your child will feel more familiar and will recognize a face or two."

Here are some other ways parents can help teens adjust to a move:

  • Talk to people at the new school and make sure that all records from the old school are received.
  • Don't assume the child will be miserable, and if the move is necessary, parents shouldn't feel guilty about it. Making the move manageable for everyone involved is the key. Some teens look forward to a new start, while others may be devastated.
  • If you belonged to a church or synagogue, join a congregation in your new community and become active immediately.
  • If financially possible, make sure a cell phone or easy access to the Internet is available to stay in touch with old friends.
  • Invite old friends to visit and encourage trips back to the old neighborhood.
  • Include the teen's opinions in house hunting.
  • Let your teen decorate his new room to suit his own taste. If he wants to re-create his old room, allow that.

Warning Signs

Despite parental help and involvement, there are times when a teen may become depressed over the move. Rosenberg says that there are both obvious signs and less obvious signs that a teen is not adjusting well and may need some extra help. "The obvious signs are easy: prolonged sad mood, withdrawal from formerly enjoyed activities, change in eating or sleeping habits, a sudden drop in grades, truancy, drug or alcohol use," she says. "But you'll also want to keep your eyes open for more subtle changes and to take the time to figure out if the changes in behavior are part of the normal adjustment or indicative of a more serious problem."

Rosenberg says to expect that a teen may take some time to adjust to a new home and school and that a decrease in socializing may be normal as the child tries to find how to fit with the different social environment. However, if your teen never wants to go out, seems to exhibit regressed behavior or shows any of the obvious signs of depression, get some help. Nobody has to go through this alone. Together, you can move in a positive direction.

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