Moving in the Middle of High School – How to Prepare Your Teens
MovingCompanyReviews note: We’re delighted to have Kerry Brown Hasbrook, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, write this post for us. Dr. Brown Hasbrook is a well-known Child Psychologist in the Chicago area, and moved in high school from Connecticut to just north of Chicago. Her post below gives some fantastic tips and tricks on how to make the moving with kids (teenagers specifically) less stressful.
Did your chest or back tighten when you read the title of this blog? If so, you are not alone! Not surprisingly, relocating to a new town is rated as one of life’s most stressful events. For you are not just transporting belongings, you are uprooting your social network, your schools, possibly your work, and all your well-worn paths to the neighbor’s house, the beloved coffee shop, church, and the gym. When teenagers are added to the equation, moving inherently becomes more complicated.
Adolescence can be a period of turmoil for many, but also an exciting time in which they navigate social and identity issues. With the increasing level of independence along with possibly an ability to drive, many teens delight in this new developmental phase. Conversely, other teens struggle with “fitting in” socially, keeping up with the challenging academic curriculum, and managing both time and stress. With that said, ideally, an adolescent could remain in the same high school setting until graduation. When a family must move, however, doing so at the start of a new quarter or semester is recommended. If for whatever reason that is not possible, parental care and concern, along with planfulness are essential for the entire family’s emotional well-being.
Below are a few suggestions for easing adolescents’ transition when switching schools:
- Discuss the reasons for the upcoming relocation. Explain that this move might not be optimal timing, but it is mandatory for economic, financial, or health reasons. Since adolescence can sometimes be a time of self-centeredness or egocentricity, ensure your teens that transferring high schools is not an attempt at making their lives miserable.
- Talk candidly with your teenagers regarding your feelings about the move. Express your honest thoughts and feelings in an appropriate manner. (This might require weeks of coffee chats with your girlfriend/therapist to get you to a sound place emotionally☺) Anyone who has spent time with teenagers is aware that they have built-in “phony” detectors! Acknowledging the difficulties associated with moving high schools and validating their feelings about such can be very impactful!
- Keep your thoughts and feelings on the positive side while simultaneously validating your teens’ feelings! It might prove helpful to say things like, “I hear you saying that you feel like this move will ruin your life. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. I know it might feel scary leaving your friends, school, and sports for this unknown new town. I have a feeling that this will all turn out well in the end.” Conversely, avoid saying things like, “Get over it. We’re moving. End of discussion.” Finally, although it can be difficult, try to hold back your emotional reactions to their mood swings and defiant behaviors. Instead, try to uncover the feelings underneath these behaviors!
- Involve your adolescents in selecting their high school, if possible. If they are asked to participate in the decision-making process, their investment might result in a more positive adjustment. Why not have them research their options based on their interests (i.e., academic, athletic, yearbook, drama) and desires (i.e., class size, public/private)? Talking to the school counselor, the drama teacher, or the soccer coach ahead of time might also be helpful in increasing their comfort levels about this new adventure. Finally, take a tour of the school ahead of time if that is a possibility!
- Remind your adolescents that this is a unique opportunity to reinvent themselves! Ask them if there are changes they would like to make regarding their reputation. Specifically, do they want to remain known as “the party animal, “ “the star volleyball player,” or “the math whiz?” Or, do they instead want to take on a new path by starting a teen advisory board at the local homeless shelter, play a new sport, or participate in the yearbook club?
- Create a plan to assist your teenagers in maintaining their old friendships. This is easier now than ever with the prevalence of social media and cell phones. Remind your teenagers of the close relationships you continue to cherish with your old friends from childhood, college, etc. Concrete examples might assist them in believing that their close friendships have the potential to remain that way forever.
- Engage in a dialogue about how your adolescents can develop new friendships. Participating in sports, plays, or clubs can be the perfect avenue for establishing friendships with like-minded peers with similar interests. Colleges look fondly upon a student who shows leadership abilities and consistency through this transition!
- Request that the transcript and profile (explanation of grading system, curriculum, and school demographics) from the old high school be sent to the new high school. When it comes time to apply to colleges, your adolescents will be one step ahead of the game!
On a personal note, my relocation from the East Coast to the Midwest (just north of Chicago) before eleventh grade turned out to be a positive experience. I am grateful for the new friendships I developed while maintaining several of my old friendships. Additionally, I enjoyed experiencing life in a different region of our country. In addition, had we remained on the East Coast, I am unsure whether I would have achieved the highest honor in one of my sports or been offered the same scholarship. Finally, I believe that our family’s frequent relocations armed me with an ability to quickly adapt to change and to relate to all different types of people!
Kerry Brown Hasbrook, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist