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How To Ready Your Teenager for A Lifetime of Change

3 September 2018

How well does your teenager handle change?

Perhaps your family relocates to a new city or country. Maybe your child changes school or a parent's new job requires family life to function differently.

Would your teenager tackle these challenges head-on, or brace for impact?

A UWC student performs a yoga movement as the sun sets behind her.

Today's teenagers are growing up in a world where they will live in more locations and explore more careers than ever before.

Research conducted in 2015 suggested the average worker currently held ten different jobs before age forty, with that number projected to grow (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Your teenager will experience a constant stream of changes, big and small, unlike any previous generation.

Life is no longer comprised of brief periods of transition breaking up longer periods of static circumstances. Transition is the new normal.

As a parent, you want to prepare your young person for adult life. You hope they will be equipped to ride into these waves of change, rather than just reacting as they wash over them.

So how do you anticipate a life full of transitions and prepare for it? One option is to consider sending your child to an international school.

How well do you understand change?

Each family is unique, so change and transition will play out differently depending on the personalities and circumstances involved. But having a common definition of change offers us a framework for thinking about your teenager, talking to him or her, and helping them make good life choices.

According to Carl E Pickhardt, PhD "It (change) can be identified as anytime one or more of four shifts occur—something in your life starts, stops, increases, or decreases."

Consider your teenager for a moment. Think of their friendship group. Think of their school experience. Surely those four shifts describe their constant state of being.

Jean Twenge is an American sociologist, and author of the book iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us.

Twenge draws our attention to changes in the way young people relate to one another. She argues, for example, that if young people are to develop the resilience and relational confidence they will need as adults, they need to be encouraged to learn to build friendships and resolve differences face-to-face, rather than depending on social media as their primary social environment.

International schools, like those in the UWC network, offer young people a unique opportunity to be around people from different cultures and with different world-views. They live, learn and play in this environment.

Although it may seem counterintuitive to hasten your child's growth into adulthood by allowing them to leave home at a younger age than many of their peers, many families are finding this accelerates the growth in confidence of a teenager.

Young people have always had to learn to deal with more and more change as they grow into adulthood. What's shifting is our understanding of how to help them succeed in this task.

How ready is your teenager for change?

Consider how would you answer the following questions in relation to your teenager:

  • How do they express caring and take care of their responsibilities?
  • How do they conduct communication to stay adequately informed?
  • How do they harness conflict to increase understanding and unity?
  • How do they adjust to change as living conditions continually alter?

Carl E Pickhardt Ph.D. argues, "For developing adolescents, their answers to these questions can shape the adults into which they grow—their degree of personal accountability, their capacity to speak up, their comfort with disagreement, their flexibility and adaptability." (Psychology Today)

If your answers to those questions add to your anxiety about your child's readiness for change, the solution might be to actively seek a transition you believe will prepare them well for adulthood.

Here at UWC we create educational environments that anticipate the changes your child will face, so they can teach themselves how to ride the waves.

How is your teenager's school preparing them for change?

Leonor Teles is an alumna of UWC Mahindra College in Pune, India. She chose to study the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) because she wanted to push herself beyond her comfort zone.

"People said you get a cultural shock and I wanted to experience that," says Leonor. "It makes you very resilient as there’s so much happening all the time and you’re living on your own with people from all over the world. You learn to live in a community and accommodate so many people’s needs."

As you consider the best educational environment for your teenager, what do you need to know about a school?

  1. Is my teenager being treated as a child or as an emerging adult?
  2. Do I see my child becoming more resilient through this school experience?
  3. How diverse is the school environment?
  4. How rigorous is the academic programme?
  5. What opportunities outside the academic classes are available to my young person?
  6. Will the school nurture my teenager's passions?
  7. How will my teenager learn to serve others?

As you focus on preparing your young person for the challenges and opportunities their future will bring, are you also preparing for how this will affect you?

Remember, any wave of change coming in the direction of your teenager, will eventually touch you too.

How ready are you for the changes in your child's life?

If your child has expressed a desire to apply for an international school, this is a great opportunity for you to think about how you respond to change in your child's life. Think about the following questions or, if possible, discuss them with the other parent or someone close to you.

  1. How do I usually respond to major changes in life?
  2. How is my child's decision making me feel? (not, do I think it's correct?)
  3. What experience can I draw on in offering guidance?
  4. What would help me deal with any anxieties I feel? (This could be something the school offers you, or someone you need to talk to for example).

If your child is interested in applying to an international school, they clearly aren't afraid of change. They want to be challenged. They want to grow as a person. That's a good sign they will develop into a resilient and adaptable adult.

At UWC we receive young people from all over the world, with different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Our selection criteria are designed to bring together young people with passion and commitment, and give them a platform to be change makers in the world now, not just when they become adults.

To find a UWC location that's right for you, to explore scholarship opportunities, or to read the stories of our students, visit

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