The day we told our 16-year-old son, Bill, that we were moving again, he walked out of the room without saying a word. Our 13-year-old daughter, Ginger, seemed shocked by the news. She kept asking, "Why?"
In our 14 corporate moves, I've often had to give this unwelcome news to my teens, doing my best to soften the blow each time. Whether it's one move or 14, uprooting teens involves emotions over the loss of relationships and activities and their fear of the unknown. While we usually can't prevent the move, we can help our teens ease into the transition so they adjust well.
Give them time
Teens generally don't like surprises when it comes to life-changing events. The more time they have to process everything, the better. Once, my husband and I made the mistake of telling our neighbors we were moving before we'd told our son. He heard about our move from them — a mistake we never made again.
Understand their angst
During a big move, teens may feel like their life is a giant jigsaw puzzle turned upside-down. They have to make new friends and adjust to a new school in an unfamiliar town. They go from having an identity and a sense of belonging to not fitting in anywhere or with anybody. That kind of upheaval can cause them to become withdrawn, rebellious or angry. They may lash out and accuse you of ruining their lives.
Allow them freedom to vent
Teens need the freedom to openly express their feelings. Like with any other issue, you may not have all the answers, but open communication is healthy. When our son came back in the room later, we talked to both of our children about their feelings, rather than the facts of our move. We gave them time to vent and discuss. They found it comforting to know we shared many of the same apprehensive feelings they had. We needed to meet them on an emotional level before they could begin to accept the reality of our moving.
Keep them in the loop
Make sure to keep your kids informed and involved in the process. When a family with three active teens in our church was moving, the mom used a whiteboard in their kitchen to list dates when the packers and movers would arrive, reminders to clean out school lockers and deadlines to return anything borrowed. Her teens always felt in the loop on what was happening, what to do and when to do it.
Help them prepare
Encourage teens to research the town you are moving to and learn about places to go and things to see. If possible, visit the new area together to look at schools and potential homes. Finally, host a farewell party or an open house to make it easier for your teens to say goodbye to friends.
Before one move, we had a backyard barbeque for our teens and their friends. There was plenty of food, desserts, laughter and tears. Most of all, Bill and Ginger got to say goodbye to friends, coaches and teachers, take lots of photos and create warm memories from this period of their lives.
Know your limitations
Like most parents, my husband and I desperately wanted our children to be happy every time we moved. We went overboard trying to fill every spare weekend with somewhere to go or something to do. It seemed we were constantly asking them, "Are you happy here yet?" One weekend, my son finally told me, "Mom, please back off. You're smothering me!" It was then I realized I couldn't make my teens happy. In time, they would have to find contentment themselves.
While we do sometimes need to back off, parents can encourage their teens to get involved in their school, church and community. Whatever they did before the move — sports, clubs, volunteering or part-time work — encourage them to get back into it or even try something different to help establish new routines. Bill and Ginger enjoyed soccer, and they signed up with a local league as soon as we moved. It gave them something to look forward to.
Be patient and choose your battles wisely. A teen's anxiety may continue to erupt in the form of anger or moodiness. Since emotions are fragile during a moving season, I never missed the chance to give a hug and say, "You can do this. I believe in you."Susan Miller is the founder of Just Moved Ministry and the author of After the Boxes Are Unpacked.