I’ve been getting a lot of “what is going on in their heads?” reports over the past few weeks from host parents, including:
- She’s suddenly hanging out with a crowd she knows I don’t like. Why?
- She’s not telling us where she is going or who she is hanging out with. She knows how important this is in our family.j
- He’s never been great about picking up after himself, that’s true; but . . . . seriously, it’s getting out of hand recently.
- He has been getting along so well with his younger host siblings – until Spring break. Now, he’s ignoring them!
- We’ve begun to see and hear a lot more of what you might call normal teen behavior: not really wanting to talk to us, and asking why we want to know this or that. This is not how she has behaved before.
- We’ve been hearing more door-slamming, and she seems to be annoyed more often. We haven’t seen this before in the last eight months.
- He seems to be withdrawing from us all of a sudden, as if he doesn’t like us, and doesn’t seem to want to go places with us anymore.
Do you see the pattern?
It’s All in the Timing
With the arrival of Spring, all students suddenly see the end of the school year. Seniors are counting the days until graduation; students everywhere are beginning to talk about summer jobs, summer vacation plans, and their dreams of hanging out and not having to think about algebra, English composition, or history class.
Our exchange students, too, have become “short timers.” They can see how much they have accomplished during their exchange, and they are happy at how comfortable they are in their host family, school, and community. It’s a great time of year for them . . . or it was, until they saw the end in sight.
The short-timer syndrome causes them to focus on the sadness of soon leaving their new families and friends, on the anxiety of wondering whether they have changed too much for their friends back home, and on the fear that it will all feel foreign when they return. Their mixed feelings cause an internal conflict that teens often do not know how to resolve. So they withdraw, or act out, or forget to do the things they certainly do know how to do – because it’s easier to leave, isn’t it, if someone is mad at you?
Remaining Focused on the Here and Now
While the mixed feelings are normal, there is some danger. Withdrawing from your host family or friends can cause conflict in relationships and make everyone unhappy at a time of year that should be a positive one for all involved in the exchange relationship. Host families can help their student to remain focused in several ways:
- Think about how to make the rest of the year be special. Are there places on your student’s “bucket list” where you can go as a family?
- Think about a “mother-daughter” or “father-son” day trip to the beach, the mountain, the golf range, a professional soccer game, or just an afternoon at the mall.
- Help your student find presents that he or she can take home to family that will be representative of your region.
- Offer to host a graduation or going away party for your student.
I tell my students’ families to try to be aware of what their students are feeling, and I tell the students to examine their feelings and behavior so that they are aware of what they are doing and why. Host families can (and should) have an honest conversation with their student, making it clear that they are sympathetic and that they care, but that certain behaviors are no more acceptable in April or May than they were in August or September. We can understand their feelings, and we can help the students realize they are not alone.
*This post is linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com*