When you move a little military brat, you are back-to-school ready if you find their shot records, attend Meet the Teacher Day and buy a spanking new lunchbox.
When you move a military teen, the lunchbox strategy suddenly doesn’t cut it anymore. According to the Department of Defense, military kids attend seven to nine schools on average. To move a kid that many times, a parent needs to develop some special skills.
Because a military teen can’t just be jollied into a move. Promises that the new cafeteria will have chicken nuggets every day fall on deaf ears. The idea that everyone in the new school will embrace them with open arms seems like an invitation to a social disease.
So what do you do with a teen who absolutely refuses to tour the new school and talk to the teachers with Mommy and Daddy?
You take them stealth bombing. This is not the kind of bombing that will have the FBI show up at your door. Instead, this is the equivalent of a little educational espionage.
Just as the Air Force’s B-2 long range stealth bomber benefits from being virtually invisible to enemy sensors, military teens in the middle of a move benefit from a little stealth, too.
Their move is made a little easier if they can gather research about their new school before their classmates start gathering information about them.
I always think that this is best done at slow speeds with Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ Dirty playing in the background. But that is just me. Expect your educational espionage to happen at four levels:
Drone. This is the unmanned phase of espionage. Your teen will probably scope the new school online without any prompting from you. School websites, Facebook pages, social media sites -- even local news stories offer an invisible first bite of a new place. This is especially important during an overseas move.
Dragon Lady. The U2 Dragon Lady is the spy plane that travels at such high altitudes the pilots have to wear space suits. When you arrive at your new location, operate at the invisible level and do not see the school first.
Instead, do your reconnaissance at places where local teenagers actually hang out that are not the school -- the mall, the pool, the Apple Store. Wherever your teen used to go at your old duty station, find the equivalent at your new duty station and do your drivebys.
Or pick something totally local. When we moved to New Orleans, I took my high school freshman to Bourbon Street to scope what girls her age were wearing, what kind of bags they carried, how they did their hair.
It also helps to Dragon Lady at a time when teens are likely to be present -- like midnight at the Taco Bell.
Stealth Bomber. Getting an eyeful of the actual school is a more risky level of educational espionage for teens. One military mom told me that when she moved her sons back to the States from Germany in middle of the school year, the boys wanted to drive by the school a lot.
The mom noticed her six-foot-tall sons scrunching down in their seats until their heads were barely visible above the dash. “I thought they were looking at what people were wearing or what their backpacks looked like,” the mom told me. “Now I think they were just scoping girls.”
While stealth bombing during the school year when school gets out is the most productive time for intelligence gathering, the summer offers fewer opportunities. Even if your kids are not involved in summer band camp or two-a-day football practices or drama camp, doing a driveby of these activities gives teens a chance to at least see future classmates.
Infiltration. The riskiest step of educational espionage is to actually interact with the locals as if you were a local yourself. Find out if there are tryouts for your kid’s sport during the summer. Drop them off at band camp. Join a pool close to the school.
If your teen is driving, have them drive you around while you are learning the area. If you let your kid go to the mall on their own back home, let them start doing that again in your new location.
The goal with educational espionage is always the same. You want your kid to spy out the locals so well that eventually he or she gets all the info they need to be comfortable in a new place. Unlike a spymaster, you know you have done your job when your teens finally go native.