Is your teenager struggling to adapt to life overseas? In this blog, we explore the potential barriers to mental well-being in first-time expat teens and give advice on what parents can do to support them.
Expat Child Syndrome - an overview
Expat Child Syndrome, or ECS, is a term used to describe the emotional distress experienced by some children and young people when moving abroad. ECS most commonly affects older children between the ages of 10 and 15, exacerbating the struggles that often come with adolescence.
There is no set list of signs or symptoms, as kids deal with things in different ways. However, behaviours to look out for include withdrawal, isolation, or episodes of disruptive and anti-social behaviour.
Promoting mental well-being in first-time expat teens and children is only possible once you understand the challenges they face. Below are some common challenges faced by teenagers moving abroad for the first time, as well as how you as parents can help to support them.
Leaving behind family and friends is never easy for anyone, but it can present significant challenges to young people. Having a solid support network is essential for a teenager's mental health, so moving away from these people can create feelings of vulnerability that may not have been there before.
Of course, we're now more connected than ever in this advanced technological age, making it easy to keep in touch with friends from home. However, the physical separation still makes things hard to deal with, and the need to make new friends can be anxiety-inducing.
As a parent, understanding how your teenager feels comes first. It may feel as though they have lost their circle of support, so it is important as their family to fill that void. This is particularly crucial in the early stages of your move, however strive to maintain a supportive family environment throughout. After all, for many expats who move around frequently, family is often the only constant.
Moving to a new country can come as a real shock to the system. Everything is suddenly alien to your child, from the food they eat, to the way people behave and even how they are treated. For this reason, it can take some time before your child feels at home in their new environment.
If the area you live in is safe enough, encourage your son or daughter to go out and explore by themselves. Learning about their new country is fun and exciting, and can lessen any feelings of alienation. Having independence is also essential for a happy teenager. The freedom to go out by themselves will make them feel more in control of the situation.
It is equally important to create a sense of familiarity and routine. Look into local classes and clubs for hobbies they had in your previous home. Things like sports and art can provide a necessary outlet for teens. These activities are also a great way to connect with like-minded people.
Adapting to a new school environment
Adapting to a new country is difficult enough as it is. Throw a new school into the mix and it's no wonder that so many expat teenagers have a hard time! Catching up with new curriculums, navigating a different school culture and difficulties fitting in socially are common challenges when starting a new school in a new country.
International schools are often large, and can be very different from the local schools back home. Fortunately, the majority of expat teens will settle in after an initial tricky period. However, for many it can be an ongoing problem that takes an enormous toll on their mental well-being.
If you are worried about your child's mental health, it may be a good idea to look into other options. Other schools in your area may be a better fit. Alternatively, home-education is also an option in most countries, which may be extremely beneficial for your child's specific needs.
Online schooling has gained traction in recent years as people live increasingly more international lives.
An online education offers a variety of benefits for first-time expat teenagers who may not be suited to mainstream school. These include curriculum consistency, small class sizes meaning improved focus, and flexibility for families who are constantly on the move.
Online Schooling supports pupils from Key Stage 2 through iGCSE and A-Level syllabi. Pupils are given equal opportunities to their mainstream-schooled peers to receive internationally recognised qualifications.
Click here for more information on how online schooling works.
Written By - Zoe Mcnaughton