Helping Teens with Transitions

Avoid sit down lectures and look for teachable moments to get your teen to open up.

An adopted teen makes the transition to high school

Few stages in a child’s life involve so many changes as does adolescence. As if all the personal, inner transitions were not enough, evolving family relationships and changes at school add to a teen’s sense of uncertainty. Teens need a stable base to help them find themselves, develop their identity, and, gradually, separate from family. For many, school and peer relationships provide that stable base.

Faltering Facades

Changing schools is part of growing up, of separating, and losing a certain sense of childhood security. One thoughtful young teen entering middle school said it well: “I just want to stay small.” Changing schools is scary because they are sensitive to loss. Saying goodbye becomes as hard as saying hello.

What about the adolescent who seems undaunted by change? Few teens are so emotionally durable. Easy adjustments often reflect an absence of close school friendships, or an avoidance of an emotional issue. A mask of indifference can conceal true feelings, and it is often a sign that an adopted adolescent is not dealing with a loss.

Although you do not want to create problems where there are none, remember that change is particularly hard in adolescence. Without reflecting on the effects of transitions, you may lose opportunities to help your teen grow through them.

Thriving, Not Surviving

Teenagers’ negative reactions to school changes are normal and healthy—if not taken to extremes. And there are many ways you can help a teen who is struggling with transition.

  • Find openings to talk about change. Sometimes, talking while driving in the car, chatting at bedtime, or making a comment in passing can open the door to deeper discussion.
  • Be sensitive but reassuring. Remind your teen of others in similar circumstances, but remember that she may feel alone, anxious, or estranged.
  • If your teenager is reacting strongly to changes, be aware that these responses might reflect other, unobservable losses. Help him to understand feelings that may not be under control.

Changes mean more than just geographic adjustments. Transitions are opportunities to work through past losses, find oneself in the present, and prepare for the future. And, if your family can be a lifeline, it is a much safer journey.

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