Moving as a teenager can be a devastating, traumatic experience. The sheer amount of courage required to walk into a high school cafeteria without knowing a single soul is huge.
My husband and I have lived in seven states during our 22 years of marriage, and our children have moved a lot. Our most recent move found us struggling in ways we were not prepared for. It’s one thing to move when you are young and can find friends via playdates and park playgrounds; it’s another thing entirely to move as a teenager. I’d like to share some of the secrets that we’ve learned along the way.
Step One: Reinvent Yourself. Use the move to a new area as a chance to start fresh. My oldest decided to play football as a high school sophomore. He had never played before. I was so afraid for him. He not only thrived, but also found some of his best friends on the team. Don’t be afraid to try something new or be who you’ve always wanted to be. A move is the perfect time to start over. You no longer have a reputation or any history. Now is to the time to define yourself in whatever way you choose.
Step Two: Go to everything. I dragged my teenage kids to a toddler playgroup at the pool when we first moved here. It was disastrous, but it gave us exposure and told people we were new. Go to every mutual activity. Show up to the fundraisers at school. Constantly put yourself out there. It is easy to stay home and feel lonely. Be brave and introduce yourself. My daughter found one of her best friends while standing in line at a school function. She rallied her courage, and managed to introduce herself and tell the friend that she was new. People will assume you know everyone unless you tell them differently.
Step Three: Use your resources. Search for friends by using any connections you can. We made friends with an amazing family who happened to move to Texas the same month we did. They were friends with coworkers of my husband in Seattle, and happened to reach out to us through that connection. Be in the friend-making business. Make it your full time focus for a while. Use your youth leaders and neighbors as a resource. Search for friends the same way you’d search for a job – take advantage of connections and resources available to you.
Step Four: Throw your own party. Don’t wait for an invitation; have the party yourself. I have done this with all three of my kids, and it’s worked out beautifully. Seek out a few girls you’d like to get to know, and invite them over. Explain to them that you are new and want to get to know them. A few games and some snacks are all you need to have ready. It’s much easier to socialize in a group setting, and this is a great way to get to know a lot of girls at once. Be brave just long enough to get those invitations extended. It will pay off in spades.
Step Five: Lean on your family. Moving is hard. Really hard. You feel lost, isolated, lonely, and excluded. It’s totally okay and normal. There’s nothing wrong with you. Chances are, everyone else in your family is feeling the exact same way. Take advantage of the opportunity to spend time together and help build each other up. Talk to your mom and dad. Share your feelings of vulnerability and frustration. Lean into that support system and know that you are loved.
Last, and most important: Be patient. It always takes at least a year or two before I feel at home in a new city. Don’t expect friendships to be as easy as the ones you left behind. They will eventually, but not for a while. Once the excitement of a new place settles in, it’s easy to get discouraged. Keep trying. Eventually, you will feel at home in your new city and have a plethora of people around you. It will happen, I promise. It just takes time.