Living with teenagers can be difficult at the best of times. It seems like over night children transform from the precious angel you brought home 12 to 13 years ago into a moody mass of hormones and loathing. For the next 5 to 10 years you will know absolutely nothing about anything. Anyone and everyone they meet will automatically know more about everything than you do. As parents we spend a lot of time trying to convince our teens that we love them. Also, that we are not trying to ruin their lives, not on purpose anyway.
Moving anywhere with a teen can be tricky. Moving overseas may seem impossible, but it isn’t. Below are some tips that will hopefully be helpful if you are up for the challenge of becoming an expat in Thailand with teenagers. A few of them were helpful with my own children. Some of them I wish had realized before the move as they would have been helpful to me. Some I created because of my mistakes with my own teenagers.
All teens are different. Tips that work for some, may not work for all. Please keep in mind that your teenager is an individual and that only you truly know what works best for them. Have patience. Eat, live, breath, patience and you and your teenager should be fine.
Making the Decision
When making the decision to become an expat, involve your teen as soon as possible. If they are involved in the decision making process they will feel like they have an important part in it, and they should. They shouldn’t feel as if you are forcing them into something they don’t want to do. Part of becoming a teenager is trying to develop their own identity and independence. In doing so, they will at times resent parental control. The harder you push them toward something the harder they will push back. This is Teen 101.
Don’t push. Guide.
This is Not a Vacation
Make sure that your teen understands this is not an extended vacation. It is important they realize that while you might be going to a new and exotic location, you are going there to live. Of course it will be an amazing adventure in itself, a new country, a new culture, new experiences. But overall, becoming an expat in Thailand means that you will be living and working in a foreign country. Your teen needs to know that it will not be a never ending vacation. Daily life will go on much like before the move, just in a different place.
Be Honest With Your Teen
Tell them why you are moving. Tell them what you hope to gain from the move both personally and as a family and tell them what you hope they will gain from it as well. Share your research with them and be open to discussing it. Just don’t sugar coat it. Give them the pros AND the cons. You might think that you are helping your argument by only giving them the good points, but you are not. You are in fact making it worse. When they discover the cons on their own, and they will, they will lose trust in you and your opinions. Loss of trust is easier to prevent than to repair.
Encourage them to do their own research on your country of choice. Kids with cell phones are like little NSA agents these days! They can find anything in 1.5 seconds. Just be prepared for whatever they find because it is not going to be much of anything good. Whatever it is, do not avoid it, or lie about it. Even if you believe it is not a valid concern or it is something they are making a big deal out of just for dramatic effect. Address it and talk about it. Talk about ways to avoid it or overcome it. Dismissing your teen and their concerns will automatically put them in defensive mode. This will not turn out well for anyone.
Just be honest with them. If you don’t know something, tell them you don’t know. Find the answers together. This is definitely not a situation where you can just say, “Because I am the parent and I say so!” This attitude will make the move more difficult for everyone and could lead to unwanted resentment down the road.
Expect the Unexpected
Teens by nature are moody. They wake up in a different world every single day. Be ready for whatever each day throws at you. You might think you are on track with the move and that your teen is fully on board today. Then something happens. You don’t know what, and you may never know. But for some reason they are once again convinced that you are single-handedly trying to ruin their life.
This is the one time in this process it is okay to ignore them a bit. Acknowledge their new concerns, but don’t validate them immediately. This might just be a normal teen episode and could possibly pass as quickly as it arrived. Give the situation a little time. If it does not pass within your teen’s normal mood swing pattern, then discuss it further. At this point it might be a good idea to suggest a journal. A journal might help your teen get their thoughts out and sorted so that they are more clear to them. Encouraging them to work through some of their concerns on their own does not mean you don’t care. Just the opposite. It could help them feel a bit more independent and in control of the situation.
When it comes to younger teens (12-16), the decision to move anywhere is ultimately your decision as a parent. However, with older teens (17-19) there could be other options to explore. Your older teen may want to finish high school or university in your home country or they might not want to leave behind friends or family. Whatever the reason, you should consider letting them stay. This is not a decision that any parent wants to make, but it might be what is best for your family at the time.
Talk to your child about it. Find out what they honestly want and what their plans are for their future. Listen to them. It will probably be hard to hear, but in the end your intentions should be about doing what is best for your child, not you. One option is to let them stay with family or trusted family friends until they finish school or until they decide they are ready to join you. If they are of legal age in your home country, help them find an apartment or get them into a dorm. You may inadvertently be helping them establish their independence or gain some of the maturity they need to survive on their own as an adult. Whatever the circumstances, getting on that plane and saying goodbye will be heartbreaking, but trust yourself and your child to know that you made the right decision, together.
Getting Ready To Go
Once the decision to move has been made, it is time to get ready to go. Include your teen in this process just as much as you did in the rest of the processes. You still want them to feel included and useful, but most importantly, they could actually be a lot of help to you.
Where you have decided to relocate to will dictate how many or how few of your possessions you will be able to move. If you are moving half a world away the logistics of packing up your entire household and shipping it might be extremely unrealistic. The cost alone is daunting. As an adult it is easy to understand that it makes more sense to buy new when you arrive. As a teenager, this could be devastating. They are leaving their home, their friends and their families (possibly even an adored sibling), and now you are asking them to leave most of their stuff. Teenagers put a lot more value on stuff than adults do.
Put your teen in charge of their room and their belongings. Give them the boundaries of what they can take and what they can’t. Make sure you express how much room they will have for the things they want to take with them. If you are going to put any items in storage, give your teen the ability to choose what they want to store. If you are planning on selling most everything, put them in charge of their things to sell and consider allowing them to keep the money. It will give them a little bit of incentive to cooperate and it will go a long way towards them having a sense of control and independence if they have their own money when you land in your new home country.
This will be an important and difficult step for you and your teenager. Be there for each other. Talk about it and listen. Sometimes just listening is far better than any advice you can offer. Get your teen a nice address book. Make sure it has plenty of room for whatever he or she wants to put in it. I know, we all have our contacts and such saved in a million places. But mobile phones crash. We lose passwords. A real book that your child can touch and hold, and possibly have their friends and family sign, will be a treasured keepsake.
Give them plenty of time to say their goodbyes. Consider throwing them a going away party. Don’t make promises of return visits to family or friends, and most importantly not to your child.. Assure your teen that this isn’t forever, but don’t make promises as to when they will be coming back to visit. As an expat, no matter how prepared you are, you will face some unexpected twists and turns in your new life. Don’t make promises to your child that you aren’t positive you can keep. Under promise, over deliver. Always.
We landed in Phuket in August at the beginning of the rainy season. One upside to arriving during the off season is super cheap hotels. While I have always been in favor of anything that doesn’t cost me a lot of money, this tip will not only save you some money, it will save you a lot of headaches when it comes to your teen. When you first arrive in your new home country you and your family will probably spend a lot of time together. A LOT. After all, you might be the only other people you know in your new home.
Until you decide where you want to live and work permanently you might be in hotels for a while before you settle somewhere. Being on vacation in a hotel room with a teen is challenging enough, imagine living with your darling teen in a hotel room 24/7 for a few weeks or months. Choosing to arrive in Phuket during the off season meant that we could stay in some luxury hotels for close to half the normal price. Or we could stay in some fairly nice hotels and afford two rooms. I recommend the latter. Teens need privacy, and so do you. We moved from the U.S. which meant the only time our daughter could Skype with her friends was the middle of the night. All night.
If you are moving straight to Bangkok (or any other big city), consider looking outside the city for hotels and apartments. A two bedroom hotel or apartment a few miles outside of city center can sometimes be three to four times cheaper than in the city.
I do not share the opinions of most parents when it comes to school. Throughout this article I have tried to stress the importance of including your teenager in every aspect of your move. I don’t believe the decision about school is any different. As a matter of fact I believe this is the one decision that your child should have the most say in. There are some amazing schools in Bangkok. We have researched most of them. There are a lot of large International Schools that are full of other children of expats. It would not be difficult to find the perfect fit for your teenager. Starting a new school is scary, but they will quickly meet other kids they that they will probably have a lot in common with.
Our daughter chose a different route. We are from a very small town so she attended a very small school in the U.S. Very small. Maybe 300 kids K-12. She knew the names of every person in her school, every student, every teacher, every staff member, even every bus driver. The thought of attending a huge school in a major city was terrifying for her so we chose to home school. It was a decision that we didn’t take lightly. Attending regular school would have been very beneficial for her however, it was not the right thing for her at the time. And as her parents, we respected her input and opinions and we made the decision as a family.
Life Goes On
At first everything will be new and exciting. But as culture shock sets in, your new life can start to become a bit scary. Throw in a bit of homesickness and you might start to doubt your move. As a parent, my go to emotion has always been guilt. After being in Thailand for a couple of months I convinced myself that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. Not to mention in the process I had probably done what my children had been accusing me of for years, ruined their lives. My son’s life back in the States and most of all my daughter’s, whom I had drug to Thailand. After a while though, things calmed down. My kids adjusted. Things have not been ‘normal’ since we landed in the Land of 1000 smiles, but we have learned to embrace and love our new ‘normal’.
And our daughter? Turns out I didn’t ruin her life at all. Quite the opposite. She loves Thailand and she loves life in Bangkok, she has not only adjusted but flourished. She was 15 when we began our decision making process and 16 when we arrived in Thailand. We gave her the option of going home when she turned 18. She celebrated her 19th birthday this month here with us in Bangkok and still has no immediate plans of going back anytime soon.
Just remember, it is hard being a teenager. You were one once, and you survived. Your teen will too.