Relocation is tough for every member of a family, but especially so for the teenager that’s leaving behind a school, friends, clubs and other commitments, as well as perhaps the only home he or she has ever known. Even if the move is for the good of the family, it can be difficult for a teen to imagine living anywhere else.
It’s normal for your teen to feel upset, and there are ways to make the process easier before and after the move. Let this guide lead the way to a healthy, fresh start for the entire family — without overlooking the genuine heartache of leaving a familiar home.
Before the Move: Helping Your Teen Say Goodbye
1. Give Them Notice
First, give your teen as much notice about the move as possible. It’s important to let him or her adjust to the idea — don’t put it off in an effort to make it quick and painless. The fact is, it’s going to be painful no matter what you do, and it’s important to respect the way your teen feels. Sit him or her down, explain that the best option for your family is to make this journey together, and then listen. Be receptive to any kind of response, whether it’s excitement, shock, sadness or anger. Let your teen know you understand it will be difficult to leave, and that you’ll do everything you can to make it a little easier.
2. Focus on the Positives
When you’re young, it’s easy to dwell on the negatives, so help direct the focus to the positives. Are you moving from a small town to a city where there will be more to see and do? Maybe you’re moving to a bigger house, or to a house with a real backyard. Maybe it can even be a fresh start for your teen. If he or she has had any academic woes — be it grades, friends or behavioral issues — a brand new school with new teachers and classmates could be a great way to move forward. Don’t minimize the loss, but help the silver linings shine through.
3. Get Them Involved in Househunting
Get your teen involved in the moving process as much as possible. Let him or her help you house hunt and check out potential neighborhoods. If you’re moving cross-country, have him or her help you look at homes for sale online and ask for feedback. Scope out neighborhoods via satellite cams; see what it would be like to make the walk from your new house to school! You may even consider asking your real estate agent to take and send some recent photos of local schools, malls, skate parks, and movie theaters to share with your teen: sometimes, it really helps to create a familiarity.
Keep in mind that your teen may develop early attachments to potential new homes, so remind him or her of the need to shop around. If they become upset over what you ultimately decide is best, let them vent. Explain that you understand how frustrating it must be to have so much changing so quickly, not to mention limited control over most of it. Focus on what he or she can control. For example, he or she will have a brand new bedroom to decorate any way they like.
4. Keep the Mood Light
As you gradually pack up your belongings, keep the mood as light and positive as possible. Don’t start packing up his or her stuff without permission, but offer to help so you can make the process less overwhelming. Keep in mind you’ll need certain transcripts and medical records for the new school, so try to keep them handy but safe so you won’t scramble later.
5. Throw a Going Away Party
Help your teens say goodbye to friends and neighbors any way you can. A great idea is to throw a farewell party — maybe even a packing party if you could use the extra help! If you’re moving especially far, it may comfort him or her to devote a weekend afternoon to driving through your favorite parts of town. Reminisce about the past, but don’t overlook the excitement in making new memories in a great new place.
After the Move: Helping Your Teen Adapt and Move Forward
1. Stay Upbeat
It’s no secret that the moving process is incredibly stressful, and it’s OK to feel overwhelmed by it at times. But try your best to stay upbeat in general, especially around your teen. He or she will likely be feeling a rollercoaster of emotions: sadness over leaving home, excitement to see the new place, apprehension about a new school, and countless other anxieties. Your goal has to be to keep focusing on the positives, even amid the chaos.
2. Get His or Her Room Set up First
Give a little extra priority to getting your teen’s room organized. It’s important that with all the other changes, he or she can settle in surrounded by familiar objects. When it comes to the rest of the house, make unpacking a family activity and make it fun! If you have family in the area, recruit their help and order some pizza and play some music. Talk about which park you can’t wait to explore or which restaurant you’re eager to try. Ask for your teen’s opinion when you need an extra set of eyes. Find ways to laugh about the cabinet door that unexpectedly broke and the tacky wallpaper you’ll have to tear down. And don’t forget to take photos — you’re already creating new memories, so document them!
3. Find Your Teen a Peer Mentor
Try to network with your real estate agent and neighbors to see if you can find your teen an early peer mentor before starting school. It doesn’t have to be a student in the same grade level and it may actually help to meet someone a little older. Upperclassmen are likely to have advice about classes and teachers, know more people (and probably have a couple friends that are your teen’s age), and be able to look out for someone a grade or two younger. Your teen may feel unsure about the idea at first, so let him or her know that the door to met a potential new friend is open whenever he or she is ready. Offer to give the pair a lift to lunch some day. Give your teen the mentor’s contact information (whatever you’ve been given approval to offer, be it a phone number, Facebook page, or email) and encourage him or her to use it whenever they’re ready.
4. Register Him or Her For School Right Away
Get your teen signed up for school as soon as you can, though depending on the distance you traveled and when you arrive to your new home you may want to allow a long weekend to rest. If you move in the summer or during an extended break, don’t put off getting registration done — there could be assigned readings or other projects to consider, and you don’t want to risk your teen starting off immediately behind his or her new classmates. Find out what you can about the school’s dress code and any other major policies you’ll need to know ahead of time. You may even be able to take a tour of the school and meet some of the teachers. The more prepared your teen can feel about a brand new school, the better.
5. Find Local Activities
Look into local activities to get your teen involved in. Maybe he or she is eager to get back to a favorite sport, or interested in trying something totally new. Check with the new school for programs, as well as local youth, community, and religious centers. While you’re at it, sign yourself up for a group or class. It doesn’t have to be a major time commitment, but it sets the right example to your teen as well as gives you another opportunity to network within your new community.
6. Communicate Openly
Keep the lines of communication open throughout the settling in process. Check in to see how your teen is adjusting — especially if he or she has already started school — and continue to be receptive to however he or she feels. Allow time to vent, but help find the bright spots, especially on bad days. You want your teen to be able to feel comfortable coming to you to talk, but you also want to reassure him or her that things will get better. If he or she is shutting you out, don’t push for answers but don’t stop asking, either. Constantly remind him or her that you’re available to talk whenever they’re ready, and actively give the opportunity every day.
Encourage your teen to keep in touch with friends back home, but support efforts to spend time with new friends, as well. Offer to let classmates come over after school and to give him or her a lift to weekend activities. Social media will likely be playing a major role for your teen, and unfortunately, a new student can sometimes make for an easy target, so keep an eye out for signs of cyberbullying.
7. Watch for Signs of Depression
Also keep an eye out for signs of depression, and never hesitate to seek professional advice. If your teen just can’t seem to acclimate, going to therapy may help sort out his or her feelings on the move. Let your teen know therapy is an option if he or she wants it, but be careful not to put too much pressure on the issue. It’s important he or she knows it’s not that you think something is “wrong” with them, it’s that you want them to have additional support and guidance.
It’s going to take some time for your teen to adjust to his or her new life. The best thing you can do is continue to be an outlet of support and a listening ear. Soon, you’ll be able to move forward together and truly make the most of your new home.