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"My son said we were cowards if we wanted to run away". Emigration with a teenager: advice from psychologist Yulia Morozova


Puberty is the worst time to move. But what to do if emigration is necessary?

Psychologist and emigration specialist Yulia Morozova explains how to help your teenager.

- Why is during adolescence the most difficult time to move?

- The function of adolescence - the separation from their parents, the formation of their own self and the discovery of the world of others. There is a reason why this period is called a crisis. Everything old  no longer works and new things have not yet been found.

Both psychologically and physically, this age is not easy for children. They are still dependent on adults, but at the same time they are striving for independence and autonomy.

Naturally, if any strong changes take place at this point,  separation and resistance  increase even further. How do teenagers become independent from their parents? They find some kind of social hangout where they feel more like themselves than with their parents. If they are taken to another country at this point, it can be a tragedy for them.

Ekaterina, moved from Russia to Turkey in April 2022 with her sons, aged 6 and 13:

"When moving with a teenager, the hardest thing was to explain why we decided to leave. My son was 13 years old and he was convinced about fighting against the war inside the country. He said we were cowards if we wanted to run away."

- What should parents of teenagers expect after they move?

- Teenagers resist. Everyone is different: some actively fight, argue, defend, some immerse themselves in social media or online games and some simply lock themselves in their room and do not make contact.

There is another important point: parents are also under a lot of stress when they move and because they think that teenagers are more or less mature and adequate people, not enough attention is paid to their psychological state. That is, those who shout loudly and declare how they disagree and how unfair it  is get all the attention. Those who suffer in silence get almost no attention. So quite often I see teenagers in a depressed, apathetic state. They often start self-harming (they cut the skin on their hands and feet, set fire to inconspicuous things, sometimes bang their heads or legs on the corners of furniture).

Parents who have to leave  against their will, at the wrong time, in the wrong way (if at all) feel a sense of powerlessness. Children feel the same way. It is therefore easier for those parents who are moving now to understand their child.

Those who moved two years ago, looking for a better life, seeing better career prospects in another country, understood their teenagers much less. They said, "We're going somewhere really good, it's going to be great there!" For the kids, this is absolutely not the case. They were being taken away from their newly established circle of friends and close relationships and the benefits of the move were not obvious at all. The harm, on the other hand, was quite obvious.

Now the advantage of this whole thrashing situation is that parents can understand their child and unite with him. To tell him: "I'm in the same situation as you. I don't want to go somewhere else and I have no choice either.

It is good to talk about this compulsion to leave because they are old enough to discuss difficult topics and the reality of our world, in which we cannot control everything. The more sincere the parents are (just don't go overboard), the easier it will be for the whole family to go through this difficult period. Because being forced to move is not  emigration, it is an evacuation. We lose a lot: our home, our connections, our loved ones, our work... And it is important to mourn this loss, to give both yourself and your teenager time to react to it, to get angry, to feel the emotions that come when we lose something very important (anger, sadness,  irritation).

- What concrete steps can help a teenager and the whole family to move on more easily?

At the same time as acknowledging the loss, we need to find the important thing we are moving for. Even if we are running from something that is threatening or seems ethically incompatible with our lives, it is important to find what we are running for. Because if we are running all the time, we  waste a lot of energy and it is not replenished by the energy that can be derived from the new reality.

It is advisable to do it at the border, because when you already get there, there will be a lot of hustle and emotional turmoil. My favourite author, Dina Rubina, has a collection called "Emigration, Shadow by the Fire". She uses the metaphor of a rushing train in one of her novels. The tree trunks flash past the window - and you can't make anything out. The first year of emigration is like this train. During this period there is no time for a teenager who seems to be an adult and can sort it out for himself.

It is therefore a good idea to sit down and look at why you are going there and what better opportunities await you there. It's important to help your teenager find a social hangout beforehand. See ticktockers, bloggers who are in that country. Find areas, activities that match your child's interests. Something that may even be better and more interesting than in your country. That is, find something for him/her, based on his/her interests and values. Look in advance in mum’s chat rooms for families with teenagers you like, in order to arrange meetings when you arrive.

In London, for example, parents often organise picnics for newcomers where Russian-speaking children get to know each other and then socialise without their parents.

A teenager is also going to have a lot of emotional experiences at school. A child has many fears about how he/she will be viewed in the new social environment: that he/she won't be accepted, will be laughed at, will mess up on the first day, won't make friends with others, etc.

This, by the way, also makes sense to talk through and recall a good experience that the child has had in a stressful situation and to remind them all the time that "look, you've done this before". Maybe not on this scale, but, for example, you went to camp before and were able to make friends.

Maybe there was a bad experience. Then let's see how you did? What did you do? Did you cry, call your friends, play a musical instrument or play football? Let's look at what might be the worst thing that could happen in this situation and think about what we would do about it.

Evgenia (name changed), moved to the Netherlands from Russia with her husband and three children (a toddler and daughters aged 5 and 15):

"There are plenty of positives when moving, too. For example, we were worried about our eldest teenager (15 years old). That she would lose social connections that she had already formed. But within a month, our daughter had already fully settled in. She went to the local school, started to learn the language. It is going very well.

Most importantly, I can see that it is much easier for her here than it was at school in Russia, where there was pressure, restrictions on freedom and propaganda. She has found an official job, delivering bread from the bakery on her bicycle, early in the morning before school. She travels freely between neighbouring towns by bicycle, enjoys the mild climate and is not at all sad that her friends have remained thousands of kilometres away. They keep in touch via messenger."

It is important to say that social ties will remain, you can still communicate, call each other and play online games.

Maybe, if possible, you could plan some sort of holiday with your child's friends, for the summer. It's very popular  nowadays to go to the sea and take a friend or friend of your child. As a rule, the holiday is very successful, the child doesn't whine, doesn't sit on the phone all the time. It helps when the child is going through a difficult moment, but already sees that there will be something good in the summer.

Let the teenager take pictures, videos of his room, his house, his friends. So that you can look at them later and remember your home. Sometimes you can also cry. You don't have to be afraid of sadness; on the contrary, it is important to give space to these feelings. And then it will get easier.

If we do not interfere with our emotions, each emotion lasts from 30 seconds to a maximum of 16 minutes. Unless we say, "Uh-oh, don't be sad, look how beautiful it is here, look, the sea," etc. Teenagers do not usually need the sea, they do not like walking around the city either, they do not need your museums either ... They like communication and not with you, but with their friends.

If you haven't left yet, find some  students from the country you are going to, to help your teenager improve their language skills.

Teenagers need to know all the swear words, all the jargon. They tease each other all the time, there's a lot of aggression through words - it's good to understand those words.

This, by the way, is true for children of all ages. You need to help them learn all the play vocabulary. Not "London is the capital of Great Britain", but all sorts of hide-and-seek and swings - things the child will use right now.

It's a big mistake for parents if they think the child will learn the language on his or her own somehow. They will, of course, but children get very stressed without  knowledge of the language. Why do they need unnecessary stress? If you've already moved, get a teacher anyway - a young one, not older than 25 years old, who will help to get them to talk.

Find concerts of bands your child likes and festivals and if your child plays computer networking games, consider yourself lucky. Now you can finally use it to your advantage. Ask your teenager to start playing with kids from the country you're visiting. It will help him learn the language as well. Then he might be able to meet them.

Eugenia, moved to Turkey from Russia in March 2022 with her husband and three children (son 15 and daughters 4 and 12):

"For the older children, the most difficult thing was to break away from their familiar surroundings back home and create new friendships here. Not all difficulties have been overcome yet. Their son periodically complains that he feels lost. Links with his old friends in Russia have practically disappeared and he has not managed to make new friends: it is a question of preferences, interests, shared life goals. In addition, he has questions about school, he is trying to learn English and Turkish, he does not understand everything.

Two things helped us. The first is to build on familiar values.

We love board games - we continued to play them. We love hosting guests and going on weekend micro-trips. All these things we have continued to do here. It is like a piece of something that is our own, native and familiar.

The second thing that has helped us adapt: we are very open to the world. When we got over the shock of the move, we realised that until we start doing something ourselves, we won't have a new environment in our lives. We started going to all sorts of meetings and I joined teenage parents' chat rooms. We were looking for any opportunity to meet someone, get to know someone and have a new experience."

- What are some red flags that can be used to tell if a teenager needs help?

- Self Harm. Watch for wrists, ankles, inner thighs. If your teenager starts wearing only long-sleeved clothes, even if it's hot, they may be hiding signs of self-harm.

In this case, you shouldn't  rebuke yourself or him, and you shouldn't tear  your hair out either. This is a common story nowadays. When children find it unbearably difficult, they try to switch from mental pain to physical pain.

If you see this, turn to a psychologist or psychotherapist. First and foremost, ask yourself about what is going on in the home right now. What state is the family in? How do you express your feelings in the family? Is it ok to be angry? How does this happen? What are the family's ways of dealing with stress? And you need to talk to your child about the fact that although self-harm may be the only way he or she has found to calm himself or herself, there are plenty of other ways. Let him know that you can see how much he is hurting inside, that he is trying to relieve that pain physically.

Abrupt changes in behaviour.

If your child starts to do poorly in school, stops doing things he used to enjoy, no longer calls his friends - these are also red flags.

It often happens that when a child leaves, the relationship with old friends goes down the drain. This is normal, but of course he may get very upset about it. It's a good idea to grieve with him. It is important to help him or her find a good environment in which to socialise.

Your child may not be able to find good company right away, especially  an easy, close friend.

Most schools nowadays have a lot of drugs and they are easy to sell at parties and in schools themselves. The question is to what extent the child will have a need for them - when they have no other way of relieving themselves.

Your job as an adult is to diversify your ways of coping with stress, loneliness and pain.

Yes, wine or cigarettes help. But if that's the only thing that helps, there's a big risk that your child will also find an easy way to distract themselves and relax without getting to the core of the problem and solving it.

Physical condition. Pay attention if sleep is disrupted or children start to get sick a lot. It's understandable that when we move to a new country, we often get sick because, firstly, it's stressful and secondly, the new viruses are all ours.

If you see a child getting sick all the time, it could be because he is avoiding school and there are some reasons why he doesn't want to go there.

Sleep is often disrupted by a child spending time on social media at night. Or, due to too much anxiety he can't fall asleep. This is where help is needed, yours or that of a specialist and it's important to find out the cause of poor sleep.

One of the characteristic feelings in adolescence is loneliness, when you feel that you are alone and no one understands you.  Emigration isolation reinforces this condition. It is therefore very important that you are someone whom your teenager can lean on and come to in case of difficulties.

Irina (name changed), left Ukraine for Germany with a 12-year-old daughter and an 11-month-old son:

"In this whole situation it was most difficult for my daughter, who was 12 at the time of the move. She was going through a difficult period and then there was all this... She was depressed for a long time, nothing made her happy.  She did not like the German school where she began to go, or the children , although in the class there were many children from Ukraine and a few Russian speaking Germans. In the evenings she often cried that she wanted to go home.

We have been in Germany since April. It seems to me that my daughter did better after the beginning of the new school year when a new girl from Ukraine came to her class and they became friends. At that time her friend did well and tried to get good grades (nowadays Ukrainians in German schools are graded at will).

My daughter was an excellent student in her Ukrainian school, from the 3rd grade she studied German as a second foreign language, but at the same time she was completely indifferent to study at the German school and there was no desire to learn the language and other subjects too. But with the arrival of a new friend everything has changed. She now also tries to get good grades. At the same time, out of eight Ukrainians in the class, only my daughter and her friend get marks."

Your challenge is to find how you as a family can cope with difficult circumstances and look for new values that will help you adapt to emigration.

If you yourself feel that you are annoyed by everything and want to be left alone, this is a wake-up call to know that not only does your teenager need support, but that you yourself need support too.

Your child may not show you directly that he feels bad, because he feels sorry for you, worries about you and even takes some of the responsibility for the situation himself. Parents sometimes rejoice: "There's my grown-up, he's doing everything himself!".

And then the child, when he comes to me, says: "I'm so sick of it. I'm afraid to tell her that I'm tired, that I don't want to go to this school or do this sport. Because she'll crumble like a crystal vase. She's trying so hard for me!"

I know I'm about to say once again what is already obvious. But when we hear these words over and over again, maybe someone will take them seriously. Or rather, take themselves and their limitations seriously.

The first thing to do is to pay attention to yourself and your condition.

Get as much help and support as you can to "be a good mum". Going to a psychologist or psychological support groups is an important investment.

Relationships in the family may deteriorate as a result of the move. If this happens we  need to go to a family therapist. You should see these difficulties as an opportunity to grow  and take things to another level. Grow  first and foremost on your own.

Alexei (name changed), left Russia with his wife and children aged 10, 13, 15, and 17:

"We have already made two moves. What helped us? Being a big family - we communicated with each other more often than we did in Russia, and there are some pluses in that. New rituals have appeared. Family gatherings, conversations, reading. At first, while there was a social vacuum and children stayed at home all the time, it helped to create basic discipline, you have to organise each day, give tasks, ask for lessons - these are all signs of normality for children. It helps to delegate tasks to elders who can consciously perceive the situation and help to maintain an emotional climate.

Gifts, signs of attention are doubly important. We have become less strict about the possibility of buying something the child asks for, we allow it more often.  We ourselves have received unexpected signs of attention from them. Our 13-year-old daughter wrote a whole message to us (parents) in the form of a picture book letter, where she shared her worries and concerns about us and offered her help. It was very nice.

It helps to acknowledge and talk through the difficulties and problems children face. We don't try to pretend that everything is OK.

We share our doubts, fears, worries and concerns about them. They see that we understand their problems. Often children themselves start to offer some solutions and a positive outlook. Of course, it is important not to go overboard and to be generally confident that things will be resolved and get better.”

By: Anna Rosch