Moving is a fact of life for most military families. On average, children who live with a service member move every two to three years. Packing up and leaving for a new town can be difficult at any age, but it can be especially hard on teenagers. Saying goodbye to good friends, being the new kid at school, and worrying about fitting in are just a few of the challenges they face. Family is the one constant source of support in your teenager's life. Even if it doesn't seem that your teen needs you, try to be available. Your teenager needs you now as much as ever.
Before the move
While your teenager may not be excited about moving, you can make the transition a little easier. Helping your teen prepare for the move early on may ease some of the strain.
- Tell your teenager about the move as soon as possible. As difficult as it is to face a move, knowing about it far in advance gives teens time to prepare emotionally and start planning for the future.
- Talk it over. Sit down as a family to discuss the move. Encourage everyone to express their feelings, even negative ones, but point out some positive aspects of the move as well. Listen to your teenager. Tell him or her that you are always available to talk.
- Encourage your teenager to attend relocation briefings with you when appropriate. Some installations may have relocation workshops for children and teens. Check your installation's relocation office or Family Support Center to see what's available.
- Stick to your regular routines. Routines provide a sense of comfort and stability, so try to maintain them, even when it becomes difficult.
- Involve your teenager in some of the planning. Teenagers will feel more a part of the process when they can help plan the move. Allow your children to pick out the color scheme for their bedroom or buy new posters to hang on the walls.
- Help your teenager learn about the new location. Visit websites to learn about the city and the military installation. Discover specific events, activities, or places, like nearby theme parks, to help your teen get excited about the move.
- Familiarize yourself with the new school. Before you PCS (permanent change of station), visit the new school's website. The new Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children makes it easier for military children when they transfer to a new school.
- If possible, visit the school with your teenager. This way, he or she can learn about the school’s layout and students’ dress and be better able to fit in on the first day of school.
- Research the availability of activities that your teenager is now involved in.
- See if your installation has an active Youth Sponsorship program. This program will match your teenager with a youth who can show him or her around and answer questions.
- Find out about high school graduation requirements. Since requirements differ from state to state, your teenager may elect to enroll in summer school if he or she is missing credits. Check with the installation's school liaison officer (if one is available) for advice.
- Find out about driver's education requirements. Requirements for driver's education vary from state to state. Check the local government’s website.
- Give your teenager a chance to say goodbye to favorite places. Visit your teenager’s favorite spots before you move. Start early; as your move date gets closer, other responsibilities are likely to compete for your time.
- Take pictures. Your teenager will cherish pictures of friends, the old school, and other important places and people.
- Give your teenager an address book or notebook to hold friends' contact information.
- Find out how your teenager would like to say goodbye to friends. Whether your teen would like a big party, a small get-together, or just to hang out with a best friend, work with him or her to make it happen.
- Make it easy for your teenager to keep in touch with old friends. Old friends may show up at future duty stations. Staying in touch makes it easy to track old friends.
Settling into the new community
Getting used to a new duty station takes some time. You can help by encouraging your teenager to get involved in the community.
- Go to the installation Youth Center. Whether or not your teen wants to hang out at the Youth Center, just visiting will let you know what activities are available to teens on the installation.
- Become an active member of the installation community. Participate in family activities, clubs, and other recreational activities to meet other families.
- Encourage your teenager to find a part-time job. If you move during the summer, a part-time job will keep your teenager busy and provide a way to meet people.
- Locate youth programs. Learn about the local Boys & Girls Club, 4-H Club, YMCA, or other youth programs. The Family Support Center can help you locate them.
- Look for opportunities in the religious community. Find out if the military chapel or other faith organization has an active youth group.
- Find out if your Family Support Center offers a newcomer's tour for families.
- Tap into the service member's network at the new command. Ask co-workers and neighbors what their own teenagers do for fun. Remember, however, that it's important to be subtle in your attempts to help your teenager fit into the new community.
Settling into school
Going to a new school can be a real challenge -- especially if your family moves in the middle of a school year.
- Make sure your teenager gets placed at the right learning level. Because of different requirements and teaching styles, your child may arrive at the new school either ahead of or behind his or her classmates. Arrange to have your teenager's school records sent well in advance of your move, or hand-deliver these documents as soon as you arrive. Put together a file with copies of your child's school records, letters of evaluation, immunization information, and a portfolio of his or her work.
- Learn about the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children. This program discusses graduation requirements, course sequencing, testing, and extracurricular activities.
- Find out about orientation. Encourage your teenager to attend a new-student orientation. If there isn’t one, and if he or she is willing, arrange for a visit to the school to meet key staff. This will help your teen to be comfortable in the new school.
- Encourage your teenager to join a team or club. Though it may be hard to be “the new kid,” joining activities right away is a great way to meet people.
- Keep communication open between home and school. Attend meetings of the parent-teacher organization. Ask teachers how they like to be contacted, and let them know how to contact you. Attend school events. Volunteer. These are all ways to monitor quietly what the school is like and how your teenager is fitting in.