Four times in the past six years, I’ve watched as my home was packed into cardboard boxes and loaded on a truck. Carpets were rolled up, furniture was taken apart, and pictures were removed until nothing remained but the cold, hard floors, empty rooms, and bare walls. It’s an emotional experience, one that leaves you between two chapters—life as you know it and the exciting, yet nerve-racking life to come. Shifting between these two “eras” in life is a challenging experience for anyone in the family, however teenagers face social, emotional, and academic obstacles unique to their age group. Here are six things parents can do to help their teen through this bittersweet experience.
1. Teach your teen that starting over brings new opportunities.
Moving means leaving behind friends, school, communities, and ways of life. Your teen, like I did, may have trouble letting go of the past and living in the present. Instead of letting your teen sulk, complain, or focus on the negative, remind him that moving also means parting with bad reputations, crazy teachers, and unwanted commitments. Help your teen to realize that moving doesn’t have to mean starting over and building another life; it can mean starting with a new, clean slate.
2. Encourage your teen to be outgoing.
Kids at school are already going to have friends and foundations, and for the most part, won’t go out of their way to befriend the new kid. Your teen will have to be the one to reach out to others. Encourage your teen to sit next to someone rather than in the back corner, start conversations, and introduce himself to teachers. I know how nerve-racking this can be for teens, especially on the first day of school, but it will be incredibly beneficial in the long run. Furthermore, if your teen has a positive attitude, a friendly disposition, looks presentable and confident, kids are more likely to approach and get to know your son or daughter.
One more thing, even if it doesn’t seem like anyone wants to make the new students feel welcome, kids generally take interest in them. Where are they from? What are they like? Tell your teen to take advantage of this “newness” and make friends before people lose interest. As bad as it sounds, it does happen.
3. Make the new house a home.
Part of establishing foundations in a new place is getting unpacked. On the first weekend after your move, help your teen put his room together. Sure, there will be plenty of other rooms to unpack as well, but your teen will feel more comfortable overall if there aren’t piles of cardboard boxes, furniture that isn’t put together, windows without blinds in his room.
4. Don’t try to make friends for your teen.
One day you meet your new neighbors who have a kid your daughter’s age. Don’t arrange for them to meet, ask for a phone number so they can text, or catch your daughter off guard by inviting the neighbor kid to the house. Although it does show you care and want to help, this is extremely embarrassing. Your daughter may feel like you’re babying her, and the neighbor kid might think that your daughter needs her parents to make friends for her. Instead, suggest that your daughter walk over and introduce herself.
5. Explore the new area together.
When I first moved to Illinois, my dad took my brother and I into Chicago for a day. It was exciting and a welcomed relief from all of the stress I was facing. At the end of the day, I came home with a better attitude about the move because I saw what my new hometown had to offer. Even if your new town is no Chicago, still make an effort to explore the area with your teen. This can be as simple as going to a new restaurant or the open-air market on Saturday. Be creative and show your teen that there are new things to do in the area.
6. Parents: Be positive.
If you are complaining about the new job, the problems with the house, or your social life, your teen will feel like it’s okay to do that too. Set an example by being positive about the move and express it to your teen. It’s easier to hate on your new home than it is to embrace it, but find the good in it with your teen. The whole family will settle in faster than you think.
Photo Credit: cybertect from Flickr