Nothing triggers anxiety like moving your teenager to a new town and into a new school. Adolescence is a time when friends mean everything to a teenager and being torn apart from them is basically like telling them their life is over. At least that is what it feels like for a teen. As adults, we know that there is going to be a temporary adjustment period, but for your teen, this adjustment feels like forever for him. He may start to think in absolutes such as “I will never have friends again” or “no one is going to like me.” He will imagine the worst-case scenarios and start to tell you how you have ruined his life. Breathe, because this is a normal reaction to a move at this age. I promise you that you didn’t ruin his life, but I will tell you that things are going to be difficult and very unpleasant during the transition phase before they adjust to their new environment. That’s why I have come up with 10 ways to help your teen move to a new town. These tips come from my experience of working with teens in my practice who have had difficulty adjusting to the changes in a move and from facilitating new student transition groups in schools.
Validate your teen’s feelings
Tell him that you may not know exactly how he feels, but you understand why he may feel very sad, nervous or anxious. Let him know that it is ok for him to have these feelings and that you have your own unpleasant feelings about the move as well. Let him know how hard it must be to make new friends and how brave he is for trying.
Allow your teen to experience his feelings
Do not try to change how he feels or try to take his feelings away. Your teen needs to go through the sadness of not seeing their friends and the anxiety of having to attend a whole new school. The only way to process feelings is to allow them to be there. As much as you may feel guilty or want to fix the situation for your teen, you have to accept that you can’t, and you are allowing him to build his own resilience.
Have your teen attend the new student orientation or get a tour of the school before the year starts
This will help him feel a little less anxious and will give him the opportunity to meet some other new students before the school year gets going. Encourage him to connect with the other new students- get a phone number or find the other new students on social media. It is always helpful to recognize at least one new face on the first day of school. Also, ask your school about new student programming. Some schools may already have this in place for the first month to help teens adjust.
Encourage him to participate in local sports, clubs, and activities
We are in an era where there is a surplus of opportunity for teens to get involved. If your teen plays sports, that’s an automatic open door to meeting new friends and feeling a connection. If not, there are still a ton of after-school clubs and local activities that may appeal to teens such as dance, art, music, martial arts, swimming, boys and girls scouts, etc. Get a local library card and opt-in to their email list to get updates on teen programming offered there. We are more likely to connect with others when we share something in common, so help your teen expand on their interests.
Give your teen time to adjust
Do not have an expected date of when you think your teen will make friends and feel comfortable in the new environment. This adjustment is different for everyone and it depends on so many different factors. If a few months have passed and he still hasn’t invited a friend over, that’s ok. You can check in with your teen and ask him how it’s been going and if he reveals he is having difficulty, then take some action. Try your best not to make assumptions. Find ways to connect with your teen to see how the process of making new friends is going for them before jumping to your own conclusions. Usually, a car ride is the least threatening way to get your teen talking because they don’t have to make eye contact with you.
Get them someone to talk to outside of the family
This part is very important. Your teen may have a lot of anger towards you for the move, so you want them to have someone in school like their guidance counselor or school psychologist to talk to about their adjustment. Some teens feel as though this makes them stand out even more, so you may consider having a few sessions with a local therapist.
Model your own efforts in meeting new people
One of the best things you can do is to talk to your kids about how you miss your old neighbors or friends and how difficult it has also been for you to find other moms to connect with in the community. You want to show them how you have tried to reach out by joining different mom groups or attending PTA events to get connected yourself. After all, your connections in the new community will help their connection.
Don’t ask your teen daily if they have made new friends
They already feel the pressure to connect socially and get themselves a crew, so there is no need to ask them every day about their social life. This sends the message that you are expecting them to make a new friend every day and that is completely unrealistic. Instead, you can ask who they chose to sit by at lunch or which teacher they liked that day. You can check in from time to time about friendships, but don’t obsess over it. That is your own anxiety getting in the way and there is no need to project that onto them.
Don’t compare them to their siblings
All of your children are different people with different emotions, so you don’t want to make comparisons. You may have one child who comes home with three new friends at the end of the first week and another who has only one friend at the end of September. You don’t want to make one child feel bad about themselves by stating that their little sister has made a lot of friends because she puts more effort into being social. This type of judgment will only leave your teen hiding in his room trying to avoid the family and that’s the last thing you want them to do at this point.
Consider your child’s temperament and personality type
Your shy teen will need some more support and coaching on how to make friends than your social butterfly. We are born with certain temperaments that impact our social behaviors. Consider if your teen is more introverted or extroverted. Your introvert may not prioritize making a social group after the move as he enjoys downtime and is happy that way. Your extrovert, on the other hand, may feel very sad without a crew early on as he thrives from being a part of groups.
I hope these tips are useful to you and your family. Moving can be a blessing and can create lots of opportunity for growth. Keep in mind that this move is just an adjustment period for the emotionally healthy child and all phases do come to an end.
About Justine Carino
Justine Carino, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She helps teenagers, parents, families, and couples to navigate through difficult emotions and challenging relationships. She uses family systems techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy to help you notice the patterns in your life that have you feeling disconnected and stuck. She aims to support you in making the changes you want to see in yourself to help you create more fulfilling connections with your family members, partner or social relationships. Visit her website. Instagram and Facebook: @carinocounseling
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