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Managing a Move with Teens

Best of Winter 2014-01Jean-François Lagarde remembers the day ten years ago when he had to tell his family that they would be moving from their home community of Val-Belair, Quebec to south-central Saskatchewan.  A long-time supply technician who is now retired, Jean-François had managed to spend most of his military career at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, just north of Quebec City.  While he and his wife fully realized that a posting to another province was a strong possibility, they did not fully appreciate just how much this transition would affect their two sons.

“As unilingual francophones, both of my sons were particularly fearful about the idea of making new friends and starting school in an English-speaking community.  They were also upset that they had to give up many sporting activities like competitive snowboarding because it wouldn’t be readily available in our smaller rural community in the prairies” In retrospect, the Lagardes openly admit that they did not do an adequate job preparing their kids for this major life change.

Sooner or later, most military families will face the prospect of moving.  Disruptive as moving can be for parents, the experience can be even more traumatic for teenagers, who may not be a part of the decision to move and be reluctant to give up their current peer groups and lifestyle.  According to Major Carine Tremblay, a military social worker and Mental Health Advisor with Military Family Services in Ottawa, managing change is a primary skill young people will need all their lives.  “The stress associated with relocating to a new community can heighten the already existing pressures that many teens feel to succeed at school, at home and in social groups.”  Major Tremblay is also quick to add that, “teenagers are resilient, and it’s important for parents to have confidence in their ability to adapt to new challenges. At the same time, teens do benefit from parental support and encouragement during a period of transition”.

Relocation is a long process and there are steps throughout the process you can take (and a few you shouldn’t) to help minimize stress on your teens. Some of the more helpful are listed below.

  1. Talk to your teens as soon as it’s definite that you are scheduled for a posting.  Keep your teens informed as the move decision is finalized.
  2. Actively listen to what your teens have to say about the impending posting.  There will be less of a problem if teens have the chance to discuss their thoughts and feelings with you in an atmosphere of respect.
  3. Recognize that a move may be disruptive to the stability that your teenagers have already established with a core group of friends or with an athletic or academic path they are pursuing.
  4. Expect that your teens’ emotions may be all over the map, and encourage them to share their feelings with you or a trusted confidant.  Getting additional help is a good idea if a teen shows significant changes in behavior in the weeks or months following stressful events.
  5. Teens need to know that the grief that is typically associated with loss (friends, school, etc.) is not permanent, and that people deal with it in healthy ways. Make time in your schedule to talk about the situation and plan how to respond positively.
  6. Routines are an important way of ensuring that basic needs are met.   Leading up to, and after the move, make an effort to maintain family routines, particularly around sleeping, eating and extracurricular activities.
  7. Recognise that reactions to change are often unique and specific to each individual.  While some kids thrive on familiarity and routine, many others may welcome the adventure of a new posting.
  8. If you’re still looking for that perfect house, ask the teenagers in your family for their input. Find out what they’d like and what kind of neighborhood they would like to live in. Getting their input early on in the process will help involve them and make them feel like part of the decision.
  9. Contact with old friends helps teens stay connected to a support system and provides an outlet for talking about the new home and experiences. But, when teens spend long periods of time chatting with friends “back home” it can decrease the motivation to become involved with the new community.
  10. Be patient, some teens will dive in, develop a support network of friends, and become involved with school and activities without missing a beat. Other teens may need more time and help to feel at ease in their new surroundings.

Written by: Todd Stride

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