How to parent an expat adolescent

Many expat parents in our community have undoubtedly wondered what support they can offer to their adolescent children, who are not just living in another culture, but also absorbing it.

Big questions

During adolescence, a young person develops a new physical appearance and starts to become aware of their sexuality. On top of all that they are also forging a cultural identity. That can be a complex experience when being raised outside of your parents’ culture(s). Expat pre-teens and teens might already be starting to ask themselves some heavy questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? Who is my tribe?

Anchors and links

According to Dr Anisha Abraham, paediatrician and author of Raising Global Teens: A Practical Handbook for Parenting in the 21st Century, parents can  help their cross-cultural kids to build connections. Not only with their host culture but also with their parents’ culture(s). “Parents can help their kids establish anchors with the family’s heritage culture, perhaps through language, customs or music. They can also encourage the kids to interact with the host culture and absorb what’s around them,” says Anisha, who was raised by her Indian parents in the US, and has lived in Asia and Europe with her German husband and two sons.

Personal stories

For expat families preparing to relocate or repatriate, conversations are hugely important. “Getting kids to open up about their own stories is a powerful and valuable exercise in developing their own identity and expressing themselves,” says Anisha. “I once met a cross-cultural teen that said she’d never really discussed her multiple moves and distinct background with her peers or family. As a result, with each move, there was a sense of anxiety and fear, particularly when coming to the US and starting high school.”

Visualising what’s next

When it comes to relocating or repatriating, Anisha says remember the mnemonic RAFT (reconciliation, affirmation, farewell and transition). She recommends a little online research to help teens visualise what’s around the corner. “For example, use Google maps to see where their new home or school is located and try to set up calls with classmates or friends in the new location.” Finally, she says, “take time to say a special goodbye to friends, family and mentors before you leave, either physically or if needs be then virtually.” Moving is not easy, but with some planning, parents can help their kids to adjust.

Photo: Anisha and her family

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