Traveling with a Teen

When you consider relocating families, the most challenging age group could be teenagers.

Teens are in the midst of a period of development that is tricky to navigate even in familiar surroundings. Physical and emotional changes can create feelings of imbalance and instability. If they are then leaving their home, school, and friends to live somewhere entirely new – that’s a lot for a young person to deal with.

On the other hand, sometimes the teen years are so fraught with confusing experiences that a fresh start in a new place creates a healthy way to reset.

Friends and peers are very important during the teenage years. These relationships can provide everything from support and identity to competition and tension. Young people can model good or bad behavior, influencing others in either direction. All of this may still happen abroad, after time spent getting acquainted and through the lens of cultural and language differences.

Many youngsters developed new coping strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools and recreational outlets were shut down. Some also displayed emerging mental health issues, leading to wider recognition of this important aspect of young life.

Given the challenges, what are some solutions to keep teens on track during an assignment abroad?

-Parents who share a positive message about the relocation – while acknowledging the struggles – set up a safe environment from which to manage novel experiences.

-The host country school may pair an incoming student with an established one – or with another newcomer – to ease assimilation and alleviate isolation.

-Learning the local language clears so many barriers, from the obvious basic communication to peer socializing, deeper friendships, and cultural understanding. Many apps and websites make it fun.

-Keeping up with friends helps bridge the transition to the new country. Texts, online games, videochats, and social media can help teens stay connected with friends and family back home. One caveat: be mindful of social media consumption, as heavy involvement sometimes leads to further isolation.

-Old family schedules may have given way to different daily flow within the home. Responsibilities like jobs, chores, or sibling care may have changed. Find ways to apply some predictable structure – whether it’s afternoon pet care or helping to prepare the family dinner.

-Take advantage of all the digital content available to teens. Podcasts, for example, inform, entertain, and provide an opportunity for connecting with others through stories and real-life experiences. Meditation, comedy, true crime serials, music, various fandoms, and TED talks are just some podcast themes a teen might enjoy while traveling or as a calming diversion.

With some thought, planning, compassion, and patience, your family’s teenager will be well positioned to embrace the broadening experience of living abroad.

Find information and resources for teens – and all ages – in the International Relocation Center’s ‘Relocation Essentials’ section.

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group