New Kid in Town

Resiliency, reflection and reason for hope

Posted Dec 07, 2016

Michal Jarmoluk
Source: Michal Jarmoluk

The angst of potential school change is a key theme, albeit not the main point, of the dark, and in some ways disturbing, new film "Manchester by the Sea," from director Kenneth Lonergan. Faced with such a prospect after the death of his father and subsequent guardianship by his uncle, 16-year-old Patrick Chandler exhibits signs – and stages – of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, despair and, almost, acceptance.

Dramatic? Sure. But it is a movie, after all.

So what feelings do real-life school changes elicit? According to my experts, 16-year-olds Alex Froggatt and Amy Murphy (who moved from Rhode Island to Florida and Florida to South Carolina, respectively), a mixture of emotions: excitement for change tinged with the sadness of saying goodbye to friends.

Understandable. Change can be hard, especially when it’s unanticipated.

Indeed, in her article on teens changing schools, Judy Dutton acknowledges that moving at a “normal transition” time can “soften the blow because your teen has plenty of company.” She quotes counseling educator Diane Lang as saying, “Changing schools at times that are common – like the beginning of middle or high school – makes it slightly easier than if the transitions occur mid-year or in the middle of high school.”

Alex and Amy are both sophomores.

Nevertheless, they have persevered and are, in many ways, thriving.

For his part, Alex says that while “the hardest things were moving away from a place where I had been living for most of my life and leaving the people I’ve grown up with for years,” he is doing “great,” has made new friends and keeps in touch with his Rhode Island pals through social media (Instagram and Snapchat), playing Xbox, and visits. He told me, “Talking to my friends up north really calmed me.”

Of course the allure of a new boat and fishing gear didn’t hurt, either.

Similarly, Amy offers, “Now that the end of first semester is around the corner, I could say that I have found my way. I have met some nice people, and they’re the same girls I sit with at lunch every day.”

And, like Alex, Amy found some tangible benefits of transition, such as the beach now being two – as opposed to 20 – minutes away and turning of the seasons, about which she says, “I’ve never seen such beautiful, natural changes as I go outside to start my day.”

Yet for others the struggle is more difficult.

James Windell, writing for the Staten Island Advance, advises parents to expect that their teens may resist and, ultimately, not fare so well. He states, “While intuitively one would think that older students would be able to more easily deal with going to a new school, that is not the case at all. Younger children make an easier adjustment, while adolescents more often develop problems.”

Switching schools can also raise a lot of questions for young people, both social-emotional and logistical. Of the latter, Christine Sarikas, in her article “How to Transfer High Schools: A Complete Guide,” cites three of the most common ones.

  1. Will past credits transfer to a new school? (Answer: Often)
  2. Will transferring high schools negatively affect my college applications? (Answer: No)
  3. What new graduation requirements will I have to meet? (Answer: It will vary by state.)

Sarikas goes on to say, “Transferring high schools can seem stressful and challenging, but it doesn’t have to be! … Early on, work with your adviser and teachers at your new school to develop class schedules, so you know which classes you need to take and when you will graduate. If you are prepared and know what to expect, chances are transferring high schools will be a smooth process.”

When it comes to the social-emotional questions, there are several developmental dictates at play. Adolescents are heavily engaged in the process of mastering three challenges seen as critical to personal growth: forging an identity to call one’s own, becoming more independent from parents, and establishing deeper, more adult-like, relationships with the peer group. Moving can make progress harder.

Dutton agrees, saying “It's every teen's worst nightmare: their parents announce they're moving. New town, new friends, and last but not least, new school. While transitions like this can be tough at any age, for teenagers – with the premium they place on friendships and their status among their peers – it can seem like the end of the world is at hand. Doors slam, ‘I hate you’s are uttered, and many parents might start to worry whether moving schools will send their teen into a downward spiral that'll drain their self-esteem, grades, prom date prospects, and even alter their lifelong success and happiness. We won't sugarcoat it: Moving schools is indeed tough on teens.”

To ease the pain, she advises that parents take the following steps.

  • Don’t put off letting your teen know about the likelihood of moving.
  • Allow your child to express concerns without judgment.
  • Host a “sendoff” party.
  • Empower your teen to make some of the choices that lie ahead.
  • Facilitate his/her ability to maintain contact with old friends.

On that last score, both Alex and Amy have received parental support in staying connected to peers from their former towns and schools. Alex recently hosted some of his and took them fishing. Amy says that her friend, Alli, texts her every day, reminding her that she’s going to “get through” the challenge of change.

Alex counsels kids in similar situations, “Be sure to be yourself but always be open and become involved with activities that people invite you to do.” Amy adds, “You need to have a positive attitude and realize that moving happened for a reason and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

New kids in town modeling resiliency, reflection and reason for hope.

References

Dutton, J. (2014). 7 ways to make moving & changing schools easier on your teen. The Stir. September 15, 2014. http://thestir.cafemom.com/tweens_teens/177120/help_child_move_school (6 Dec. 2016).

Lonergan, K. dir. Manchester by the Sea. Performances by Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges. Roadside Attractions. 2016.

Sarikas, C. (2016). How to transfer high schools: a complete guide. PrepScholar. January 28, 2016. http://blog.prepscholar.com/how-to-transfer-high-schools (6 Dec. 2016).

Windell, J. (2010). Making teens switch schools isn’t the best idea. Staten Island Advance. April 13, 2010. http://www.silive.com/relationships/index.ssf/2010/04/making_teens_switch_schools_isnt_the_best_solution.html (6 Dec. 2016).