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Helping Teens Adjust to an International Move

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An international move can be a difficult transition for children. Teens may be hit especially hard because they are very social and are in a vulnerable stage of their lives. How can you help the teens in your family adjust to an international move?

As any parent of a teen can tell you, adolescents are difficult to understand. The level of maturity can vary significantly from one teen to another, so it is hard to generalize them. That said, moving to another country is very difficult for most teenagers for a variety of reasons.

Here are some facts about teens that can explain why the teenage years are a very hard time to move overseas:
  • Most teens would choose not to move but have no choice.
  • Teenagers’ lives revolve around their relationships in high school.
  • Teenagers are often experiencing their first romantic feelings for others.
  • A lot of what will define their adult identities is being built in their teenage years. 
  • Puberty can change the mood of a teenager in dramatic and unpredictable ways.

Why it's hard for teens to adjust overseas

Moving is always hard, but trying to adjust to a move to a new country as a teen is worse. Teenagers are at the age when they want more control of their lives and futures, but also are prone to overreactions and believing rumours. Who knows what misinformation peers will give them about their destination? This uncertainty causes teens to have a difficult time making the necessary adjustments.

Here are a few ways teens need to adjust when moving abroad:
  • Learning the new language
  • Entering and thriving in a totally foreign school system
  • Making new friends from a different culture
  • Overcoming personal and external prejudices
  • Interrupting or breaking off any blossoming romance from home
  • Leaving their childhood homes
  • Reconsidering their options after high school

How to help them adjust

Talk to them about it early. Teens are old enough to be consulted before a move. Talk to them like adults and they may take on a more mature view of the situation. Make it clear that you understand their concerns, but that the move is going to happen no matter what. Teens should be given plenty of warning before they have to move out of the country. They will need time to get all of their things in order and to notify their friends of their impending exit. 

If the destination country primarily speaks a different language, teens also need to start learning it relatively early. They are past the optimal language acquisition age, so learning a foreign language will not happen quickly. Ideally, a parent and a teen should know about a move many months ahead of time so they can enroll the student in an appropriate foreign language class in his or her current high school to be completed before the move.

Play up the excitement of moving to a new country. Most teens are bored with where they have grown up. There is a nascent desire to explore and see the world. Although they would rather do it on their own, the family is moving to a totally new country can fulfill some of those desires. Adjustment is all about willingness, so if you can do anything to make a teenager feel more positive about the move, it can help them adjust.

Focus on school.
The most dramatic adjustment that a teenager has to make when moving internationally is adjusting to a totally new school and school system. Each country educates differently, and since teens spend the majority of their time in school, culture shock is a real risk. When choosing your foreign destination, consider the schooling options.

The quality of the new school will greatly affect how your teen feels about the new country. Look for a good high school that best approximates the system that your teen experienced back home. Ideally, your teen will be able to take some similar classes, learn the language and culture, and get involved in activities. Once a teen adjusts to life in the new school, everything else should fall into place.

The hardest part of moving is leaving people behind. For teens, leaving friends or a significant other to go to another country can seem like the end of the world. After explaining that it isn’t, you should let teens have a going away party with all of their friends to help provide closure.

After the move, teens can use phones and the internet to stay connected with their friends back home. You only need to step in if it seems that the teen is avoiding making new friends in the new country by only talking to his or her old friends back home. Making local friends, usually through school, is imperative to teens adjusting to an international move.


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on January 21, 2015 - Moving Expert
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