Moving overseas with teenagers can be daunting for both the teen and their parents. Having personally moved overseas as a young teen, I can speak to the challenges of uprooting and rerooting during that season of life. One of the most significant factors to making that transition as healthy and smooth as possible, is being intentional about leaving well. Unlike small children, teens will vividly remember the leaving process and I believe that, for this reason, doing so in a healthy way is critical for them to grow into healthy Adult TCKs.
1. Say Goodbye Well. Help your teenagers to say goodbye well. I have noticed that this doesn’t often happen with teenagers because the assumption is that they will return to their passport country before long. It is important to keep in mind that while your teenager may only live overseas with you for short time, in that short time, a lot is happening both for them and their peers back home. They will not return to the way that life was and that is a significant loss. Their friends will likely be starting at different colleges in different places, they will likely not be returning to the home that they left, they will be returning as an adult, and their peers will also have recently “launched”. They are leaving during one of the most change-filled seasons of life so while it may be a short time-period, it is an incredibly significant time-period. Saying goodbye to their current life well will help them to start a healthy life when they return as an adult.
The RAFT concept, written about by Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds is a great tool for leaving well. Marilyn Gardner presents it beautifully here.
2. Make it a Family Conversation. If possible, talk with your teenagers about the move overseas and ask for and listen to their input. While you, the parents, will make the final decision, it is important to let your teenagers know that you care about their opinion on this significant life-changing decision.
3. Don’t Blame Hormones. While it can be easy to think of teenage hormones as the culprit for their moodiness or extra-emotional state, remember that while hormones may accentuate the grief of leaving, they do not make that grief any less real. Teenagers are experiencing an extreme loss when they move overseas and often aren’t simply “acting like a teenager” when that grief comes out in seemingly exaggerated ways.
4. Take them Seriously. Along with not blaming hormones, it is important to take your teens seriously when they express points of grief or concern to you. While missing Junior Prom might not seem like a big deal to you, it very well may for your teen. Be careful to not downplay their sources of grief or worse, make fun of them for it.
5. Provide Options for Goodbyes. I worked with a teenage girl who was about to move to Asia. She wanted to do something special to say goodbye to her best friend and after talking through some options, she decided that she wanted to make her a scrapbook. We printed pictures of the two of them, shopped for scrapbook paper and stickers, and she made a beautiful keepsake for her friend. Other teens might want to have a pizza night with their close friends before they leave, go to the movies with a group of friends, have a sleepover, etc. Encourage them to think of a way to say “goodbye” to their friends and help them to make it happen. It is incredibly important.
Teens are not only moving overseas and becoming TCKs, but they are doing so at a complex time in life. The success of their transition has a direct effect on their health as Adult TCKs when they are no longer living under your roof. By being intentional about leaving well, you will strengthen your relationship with your teen and ease the transition overseas for your entire family.