By comparison, little kids are easy. They go where we go and generally do what we tell them to do. If we are excited about a new adventure and approach a move with a positive attitude, they get excited too.
Not teens. Teens have separate lives. They have their own ideas about what they want and what they don’t want. And what most of them don’t want most of all is to move.
Sometimes a coach, a favorite teacher, the parents of a best friend, or a family member will volunteer to let a student stay with them to finish out the high school career. Some students (depending on age of majority in the state) even can elect to live independently. It may sound like a good idea. It may spare you some teenage angst and drama. But is it a good idea?
The answer, of course, is that it depends. It depends on the maturity of your child. It depends on your relationship with the proposed host. It depends on the long term goals for your child and your family as a whole. Here are a few of the considerations you’ll need to talk through with your student before you agree to leaving him or her behind.
- Family matters. Part of growing up is realizing that sometimes the needs of the family do take priority over personal desires. Sometimes leaving a teenaged child behind has unacceptable consequences.
Perhaps you need your older kids to babysit the younger ones so you can work. Maybe you simply can’t afford to provide the financial support for a child to stay with relatives or friends. Maybe a younger child would be devastated to lose the support of big brother or sister just when life is already so full of change. Perhaps you’ve gone through some hard times with your teen and need another year or two of living together to heal the relationship of that child with you and with other members of the family. If your child is not mature enough to evaluate these issues, you’ll have to make the tough decisions.
- Developmental concerns. Every high school junior or senior will tell you they are mature for their age. They believe themselves able to be independent, make good decisions, and run their own lives. But is it true?
Know your child. Is he or she really ready to be without your daily guidance and support? Some kids can handle relationships, time management, money, and responsibilities extraordinarily well by 15. Some don’t make it until 40! Kidding aside, do you believe that your teen can realistically handle being largely on his or her own?
- Different family/different rules. In a moment of spontaneous generosity, another family has agreed to host your student for the last few months of high school. As good as it may sound, this isn’t simple. Can you be comfortable with different ground rules for behavior? Is your student mature enough to respect the rules of another family? What are the expectations for chores, curfews, orderliness, checking in? What if it doesn’t work out? What would be the deciding factor for sending your child back to you? Do you need to contribute some money for your child’s support so the other family doesn’t become resentful? Does your child need an allowance to have appropriate independence?
The more clear everyone is on issues like these, the more likely it is that the situation will be successful. If you can’t reach agreement, or at least reasonably comfortable compromises, it’s a setup for failure. Save yourself, your child, and the other family the stress of having to send your child home.
- Academic concerns. Be sure to research carefully the available schools in the new community. It may be that a switch in schools late in high school will be more difficult than you thought.
Graduation requirements differ from place to place. Some high schools operate on a two- semester year, some on a trimester schedule, and some by the quarter. Some have special “tracking” by ability. Some schools are focused on special interest or achievement groups while others are meant to serve everyone. Some states require students to pass standardized tests to graduate. Others don’t.
If your child is college-bound, it gets even more complicated. New teachers and counselors can’t get to know your child well enough to advise your child or write those all-important recommendations.
Some of these issues can be handled by careful planning. You can always get college recommendations from faculty who know your child best before you leave, for example. But if changing schools means delaying graduation or losing an important curriculum, it might tip the balance in favor of letting your child stay behind.
- Extracurricular activities. Does your school focus only on achievement, or does loyalty to the team or activity group also win a special role for upperclassmen? Some schools, for example, give starring roles in the senior play to the gifted actors. But some award those roles to kids who have stuck with it the longest and tried the hardest. The latter probably won’t count in a new school.
The same holds true for athletics. Small schools sometimes will start upperclassmen just for being part of the team. Other schools hold demanding tryouts. If your student will lose a long-awaited position or role because of the move, it might tip the balance in your decision-making.
- Social concerns. Know your child. If your student has had a hard time socially, he or she may welcome a chance to start over or at least to get out of a situation that is painful.
But if your child is successful and comfortable socially and hates the idea of missing out on the last few months of high school with lifelong school friends, staying put may be the better choice.
- Staying behind and staying in touch. The decision to leave a teenager behind had far more impact only a decade ago when communication was much more difficult. Now, with the availability and affordability of cell phones and email, parents and kids separated by many miles can still be very much a part of each other’s daily lives.
Quick calls, voicemails, and text messages maintain the link. Lengthier conversations and email provide forums for important discussions and sharing between teen and parents and between parents and the host family. Some families have found it ironic but true that living apart has actually brought them closer together. Since they can’t count on the fly-bys that go with the comings and goings of busy teens and working parents, they make it a point to touch base frequently.
The three to four months of a semester go by quickly, especially if a visit or two (spring vacation? A three-day weekend?) can be scheduled. Depending on your family’s needs, your child’s maturity, and the availability of an acceptable living situation, leaving a teen behind to finish up high school can be a realistic and even preferable option.