The Big and the Small … How to Help Teens Handle Change

The big and the small … how to help teens handle change

The end of the school year is both a fun and stressful time of year, especially for teens who are graduating. New graduates have reached a huge milestone, celebrated with much pomp and circumstance. (Can’t you just hear the graduation march?) They are excited to celebrate with friends and family, move forward in their lives and are also a little scared because they’re not exactly sure what to expect.

Anytime there is a transition or change in someone’s life there can be stress and excitement and maybe even fear. All of these are normal! New places, new people and different responsibilities can all get overwhelming – even when it is something you are looking forward to. We, the adults, need to be there to support and guide them as they head out into the world.

It’s easy to think of the big milestones that kids meet: moving from middle school to high school, getting a driver’s license, and graduating from high school. But what about some of life’s less apparent transitions? Being old enough to get a new privilege like staying home alone or starting a new sport can be a turning point for kids. Something we may not see as a big transition could be a bigger deal to the teen than we realize. I remember the first time I got to drive by myself … at night! I thought that was incredibly cool and I felt like I had gained so much freedom, but there wasn’t a lot of excitement at home.

Some transitions happen on a regular basis and, again, we may not see them the same way young people do. For example, every time a kid goes back and forth between their parents’ homes it might be a huge adjustment for them. Young people face new experiences and responsibilities all the time, I could probably come up with a list a mile long. Big or small, positive or negative, how can we be there for the teens in our world while they are experiencing change?

  • Listen! If something is important they will tell you, be sure you paying attention because they may not jump up and down waving their arms around.
  • Be in the moment. I know it’s easy to jump ahead to the next thing but stay present and appreciate the experience, it will be over before you know it.
  • Allow your teen to have their own experience. We all love to share stories about “back in the day” and it’s great to share that with your teen, but be careful that you don’t diminish what your teen is experiencing.
  • Encourage! Let your teen know you are there for them and that you believe they can handle what’s coming.
  • Watch for signs of stress. Change, even good change, is stressful and can put teens at a higher risk for things like using alcohol or drugs. Help them learn healthy ways to deal with stress.

The biggest thing is to keep communication open with your teen and hang on for the ride. So, enjoy the big stuff (graduation!) don’t overlook the little stuff (driving alone!) and stay present.

I’d love to hear from you!
What kinds of life transitions/changes were important to you growing up?
In what ways do you like to help your teen survive and thrive through change?

I found a couple cool resources related to this topic ….
Teens Report Parental Inattention to their Important “Rites of Passage” has High Price Tag.
Guide for high school graduates and first year college students.


2 responses to “The Big and the Small … How to Help Teens Handle Change

  1. Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC

    Jodi, I really like these questions. I don’t have children but remember the BIG transitions all too well! At 14 years of age, my Dad took early retirement at work, packed up our little nuclear family, and moved us from Texas to North Carolina.

    It was a difficult transition for my sister (2 years younger) and me. We moved from the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth where we were heavily involved in school, church, friends, and community to the beautiful, rural mountains of Western North Carolina where we were surrounded by generations of extended family all eager to welcome and ready to get to know us.

    That all sounds great, doesn’t it? Almost idyllic? And, with my adult brain on board, it should have been . . . It could have been . . . But it wasn’t. I felt isolated (from my friends), started high school feeling like I was on another planet, . . . Even the food there was radically different.

    While I am very grateful, in hindsight, to have had the opportunity to live in those beautiful mountains (and even long to be back there again), get to know my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins better, and make some lifelong friends, I still consider that to be one of the top 3 most traumatic things that ever happened to me.

    I caution parents about relocating during those teenage years whenever possible.


  2. Tamara, thank you so much for taking the time to share this piece of your childhood! I wasn’t really thinking about a situation like moving when I was writing this but you are so right about moving during the teen years. Your description about feeling like you were on another planet is one I am sure many people relate to when they are uprooted. Any large family changes with teens and children need to be considered very carefully.


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