My life as a military brat gave me the opportunity to attend three high schools. But, I assure you, I did not view it as an opportunity at the time — although I was grateful it wasn’t four high schools, or more.
Military moves were fun and an adventure when I was younger. As I got older, it became more of a challenge. The teen years are a time of self-discovery and learning, and without that constant of a place or friend group, it felt pretty rocky at times. A military move for a high school-aged child is something totally different. These are the lessons I learned.
Don’t promise you will stay.
The number one thing not to promise your military high schooler: “I promise we won’t move.”
At my second high school, my mother promised she would stay with me so I could finish out high school there even if my father received orders. I clung to that promise. When orders did arrive, my parents decided we would all have to move so that my sister wouldn’t have to ensure multiple high schools in the future. This made the move feel even more impossible.
Military life is unpredictable, there is very little we can promise due to this known fact. Promising that you will stay when you do not know will create unrealistic expectations. To a 14 year old, it feels like the end of the world. Do not set up the expectation that there will not be orders during the high school years. Even if you know retirement is around the corner — and moving isn’t likely — save yourself the emotional outburst and frustrating conversations by not promising what you cannot guarantee. It is harder in the short run but better in the long run.
Don’t sugarcoat the news.
There are no magical words to make a move during the high school years easy. Even the most gregarious kids will be angry and upset. As a child, I made friends easily. But the moves during high school were not exciting. To the parents sharing the news of a move with their military children – be factual. Don’t use flowery language. Say it straight. Discuss the plan. When you try to sugarcoat it, the ‘sugar’ does not come across sweet. It’s bitter.
Include them in the plan.
There isn’t a lot a military kid has control over, so find something they can has input on. Lack of control is part of the anger and frustration the military teen feels when they learn about yet another move. Having something to look forward to at the new duty station may help with the transition.
Offer a journal to unabashedly share thoughts.
There will be strong feelings on the part of the teenager being ripped apart from their community. Yes, those are strong words to use, but that is how it feels when you are 13 and coming into your own building a friend group and confidence. Provide a safe space for your teen to share those feelings. Give them a journal to write it or draw it out. Don’t read it. Offer to write back and forth if they would be amenable. Giving them a place to let the true feelings out will lead to better conversations in person about it. It doesn’t mean there won’t be any “I hate yous” being said, that can be part of raising teens. This does mean that there is a place to put those feelings out there without keeping them bottled up inside.
Research, research, research.
All of my moves happened before the internet was commonplace. Gasp!
Moving into a group that has established connections is hard – even for those who are outgoing and extroverted. In the digital age, if your family allows social media, consider looking for and connecting with groups of interest early. That connection at the next place and building community early can make the transition smoother. Knowing faces and names beforehand would have made it feel a lot less awkward for this pre-internet kid.
Allow for open communication with former friends and duty stations.
Maintaining personal connections breeds confidence. Starting over again may be old hat to a military brat, but it gets harder in those teen years when self-identity is developing. Find a safe, family-allowed way to maintain those friendships that provides an outlet for continued community while establishing a new network – letters, phone calls, emails. Reality is you may see military friends again. In fact, one friend I saw in elementary school, middle school, and high school with – but all at different times and places because she was a military brat too! Knowing one person is a small celebration.
Share this piece with them.
This is for you, fellow military kid. I had three high schools – one for that awkward freshman year, one for sophomore and junior year, and one for my senior year. Senior year! Starting over! The year of fun and relaxation before college was yet another year of meeting new faces and building connections, all while trying to figure out what college I wanted to go to and deciding on a major. For that last move, I was angry. I wanted to stay at the high school I knew, with the friends and community I knew, and not start over. In hindsight, the experience helped hone my resilience. In a world of unpredictability, I still get rattled from time to time, but the foundation of resilience if heavily relied upon. For the kid with multiple high schools – YOU ARE NOT ALONE.