Being an Expat Teenager

While an Expat Life can offer financial and cultural advantages, many times children and adolescents suffer at least for a certain period from an adjustment disorder. It makes it also for parents not always easy to distinguish between temporary symptoms and persistent ones. Adjustment disorder may occur if they experience a few of the symptoms below.

What does adjustment disorder mean?

Adjustment disorder is an abnormal and excessive reaction to an identifiable life stressor. The reaction is more severe than would normally be expected and can result in significant impairment in social, occupational, or academic functioning.
Symptoms must arise within three months of the onset of the stressor and last no longer than six months after the stressor has ended.

Symptoms can vary from

  • Depressed mood
  • Impaired occupational/social functioning
  • Agitation
  • Trembling or twitching
  • Physical complaints (e.g. general aches and pains, stomachache, headache, chest pain)
  • Palpitations
  • Conduct disturbances (e.g. truancy, vandalism, reckless driving or fighting)
  • Withdrawal
  • Anxiety, worry, stress and tension (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/adjustment-disorder)

How can parents support their teenager?

Parents should try to be close to their youngsters and encourage them to socialise. Children need time to adjust to a new school and the new social environment. Focusing on just the academics of your child will undoubtedly make it difficult for him/her to accept the unique situation and make the best out of it. Talking with them about your feelings and struggle can make them feel less alone. By just listening to them, whenever they want to speak, can ease their grief. Parents tend to suffer sometimes a lot if they see, that their children are sad or want to be alone.

It takes just three things to help adjust:

  • A: Respect their own space
  • B: Be a good listener
  • C: Validate their thoughts and emotions

Parents will experience that their children will feel better after a while. They should try to avoid presenting them potential solutions since they are more likely to refuse them. We should encourage them to be authentic to themselves, to accept unwanted feelings like sadness or loneliness. Feelings should always be welcomed and recognized mindfully since they lead us to actions. Children can also learn from us to be good at it. Being honest to ourselves and our surrounding will help them (and us) to accept those feelings and to solve problems on their own.

According to psychologist Carl Rogers:

“For a person to “grow”, they need an environment that provides them with:

  • Genuineness (openness and self-disclosure)
  • Acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard)
  • Empathy (being listened to and understood).

Without these, relationships and healthy personalities
will not develop as they should, much like a tree will not grow without sunlight and water.

Rogers believed that every person could achieve their goals, wishes, and desires in life. When, or sooner if they did so, self-actualisation took place. (https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html).

So what does teenager need most of all?

An atmosphere of acceptance and the right amount of challenge.

That’s it!

Children feel more effective, if they experience, that their actions make a change. They get independent if we encourage them to try their best and not to give up easily.

You can read more about a growth mindset (https://fs.blog/2015/03/carol-dweck-mindset/) in my upcoming blog.

A story about a teenager with an expat life

How I felt when I left my home and best friends…

I live the expat life and have moved countries twice now. The first time was when I was 9 and didn’t think much of it. I missed my friends but quickly got accustomed to my new life. There, I learned a new language and found my group of friends in the new school.
At the age of 15, I moved here to Scotland, where adapting became more difficult. Before I started going to my new school, I wished I could fast forward in time and get all of it over with. Leaving my close friends was painful. I hated it.

Social media always reminded me of how happy my friends were back home and how I couldn’t be a part of it anymore.

The most challenging task about it all was having to work hard to be part of a clique again.

At my age, people are already in their circle of friends and would rather not have anyone else in it. By joining clubs and talking about my feelings with my friends from back home, time seemed to fly. Every day I think about what it would be like if I never moved here and how that would’ve changed my future. Would it be the same? Better? Alternatively, worse?

I thought my life here would be worse, and I would stay unhappy. This thought came from me hanging out with the wrong group of people. Every time they made jokes or talked about things I couldn’t relate to; I laughed anyway, even though it was never funny to me.

I felt fake and uninterested in everything that was happening. However, I kept trying to convince myself that I’d have to deal with it and try harder to relate. However, this didn’t work. So eventually, there was one person whom I bonded with, whom I could laugh with and forget the stress and worries.
At this stage, I knew that the previous group would never be a part of my friend circle. So I kept building up relationships gradually with new people.

It feels as though I’m at the point where I fast forwarded in time and ended up here. It’s not perfect and never will be, but at least I feel more welcome and confident.
As time passes by, I focus on the positive aspects. It changes my perception of the expat life.

If you’re also going through all this remember to stay active and confident even when times get difficult! It allows you to perceive this new life differently just like me.

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Published on 2018/11/28

Posted in: Children and Adolescents, Mental Health,