expat kids

How Expats Can Help their Teens Kids Adjust to Life in the U.S.

Global mobility specialists realize all too well the challenges posed by child care to expats or assignees who are living and working in the U.S. Toddlers and babies in particular have their own unique set of needs; at that sensitive age, they also need their parents to be close to them most of the time. Another kid-related challenge that assignees have to hurdle is the adjustment that their preteen-to-adolescent kids have to do, especially while studying in a foreign middle or high school. Regardless of the quality of the education in those schools, the assignees’ kids also have to contend with other factors that can affect their lifestyle, such as the friendliness of their peers, the language barrier, and the cultural zeitgeist, among others.

Adolescents and peers in particular have two very strong emotional needs: to belong with and be accepted by their peers; and to discover their own identity that can provide them a strong sense of self-confidence, while still allowing them to connect with others who may be different from them. Young people take rejection and alienation to heart, and the loneliness and insecurity can affect their performance in school, relationship with their own families, and transition to their new life. And their assignee parents who see that discomfort and difficulty will be affected as well.

A crying toddler can be appeased and be made to feel loved by a parent with a bottle of milk or a cuddly toy. In contrast, if a troubled teen cannot even voice out the anger and helplessness he feels, his assignee parent will feel equally troubled because he cannot help him. And that helplessness will nag at him as he goes to work every day.

Global mobility specialists can make this transition easier by helping the assignee, his spouse and significant other, and their young kids adapt to their educational environment — which, after leaving the confines of their home, is the next immediate environment they will be interacting with most of the day.

Tip 1: Allot for changes in the curriculum — and then adapt.

One of the frustrating things for teens and pre-teens is to feel inadequate and “uncool.” And that happens when they can’t grasp what they’re being taught in school, simply because the subjects and courses are very different. Or, for example in the case of American history, they might not be able to relate to the topics and find them relevant immediately. The problem happens when kids think that they are the ones that are fault for being different or, worse, “intellectually challenged.”

As a global mobility specialist, you can help by assisting the assignee parent get all the information about the curriculum that is being taught in the school that their kids have been enrolled in. See which subjects in the U.S. schools are similar to their subjects in their country of origin, and which are different. Don’t just stay with academics. Sports and extracurricular activities may become issues. If your Korean assignee’s kid loves soccer but does not take to American football, he might have a problem coping with the school’s sports program that offers the latter but not the former.

One way to respond to these changes is by having him hire a special tutor to help his kid catch up. Include idioms, pop culture, trends, and other popular forms of Americana that the tutor will help the kid catch up on. Remember that the foreign student here does not need to just absorb information — he has to be able to interact with his crowd, and that means understanding the inside jokes, the film references, and the other loaded meanings in sentences.

Tip 2. Give the kids time and space to adjust to U.S. culture, and that includes the language.

Too often, adult assignees can’t understand why, despite the amusement parks, clean parks, good food, and other fun areas in their new home, kids still look back to their home country. According to BBC, it’s not that these kids are unappreciative of these wonderful benefits — they just need time to “mourn” their separation from their friends and the places they hang out in their cities of origin. Sometimes, a dish made from an ethnic restaurant related to their home country can be more mouth-watering than the biggest American burger, although kids can adjust quickly to any environment.

Kids who don’t master their English communication skills immediately may feel cut off from their new home in as much as they feel distant from their old one. In this situation, it might be best for assignee parents and their kids to make their transition together. Give the kids the opportunity to just vent out and talk about what they have missed during family conversations. Take them to restaurants, museums, and communities that remind them of home. Buy a memorabilia, a souvenir, or a prized item that will have the same effect.

Despite their own busy schedule, assignees can help boost their kids’ self-confidence by teaching them a few words of English once in awhile. Even if he’s already learning how to speak English in school, it’s still even better if the parents can talk like his classmates. Seeing their parents fluently converse in English just might make them realize they can do it too.

And during the first few months of transition, allow the kids the space and the time to chat online with their hometown friends. Then on a more personal level, bring them to activities and events sponsored by their country’s embassy and business associations, such as a community dance or a fund-raising. That connection will give them the strength and resilience to adjust to the changes that they are going through.

Finally, assignee parents and the global mobility specialists assisting them should tap into a greater network for support. For example, California Corporate Housing can introduce its guests and lessees to the right people who are connected with the right schools, neighborhood associations, community organizations, sports clubs, etc. that can make the transition of their teen life easier and more fun.