PCS Orders During High School: Should Your Teen Go or Stay?

By Jen McDonald


Moving your family during a child’s high school years is hard, no question about it. For many career military families, the latest move may be one of several they’ve faced during their child’s teen years. Some families, especially those with high school juniors or seniors, may decide forcing another move on their teen is not something they’re willing to do again.

Leaving our young adult children behind as we continued moving around the world was something I never foresaw as being one of the most difficult aspects of long-term military service. Still, we’ve never been faced with the decision of whether moving without one of our high schoolers to an unexpected or remote assignment, but I’ve known several families who have.

If you’re dealing with this situation and your family is not sure what to do, it’s time for a discussion. Sitting down together and being open minded as to solutions is important. You may find several options available to you:

  • The military member moving while the family stays behind (The High School Senior Stabilization Program).
  • Moving as a family to the new duty station and switching schools.
  • Alternative means of education such as homeschooling, transferring credits from the new school to the previous one to graduate with former classmates (read one family’s story here), or graduating early if there are enough credits and finishing out the year in community college.
  • Choosing to let your high school senior stay behind with friends or family to finish out the year while the rest of the family moves.

My neighbor and friend Alison recently went through this with her youngest child Jordan, as she and her husband moved from California to Virginia due to short-notice military orders while their high school daughter stayed behind. She offers some wisdom for others in the same situation.

The Decision

As you can imagine, leaving your high schooler behind is not an easy decision. The factors that went into it for my friend’s family included the fact that this would be her daughter’s third move in high school, the school district they were zoned for at the new duty station was not ideal, and their daughter’s desire to stay behind and finish her senior year in the same place.


Some things their family advises having in place before making this decision:

  • Living arrangements with trusted friends or family.
  • Transportation: her daughter had her own car and wasn’t reliant on others for transport.
  • Legal: applicable powers of attorney from the active duty parent for anything that crops up, i.e. ID card, medical, orthodontist, etc.
  • Financial: It’s important for the teen to have their own bank account, debit card, and know how to manage their personal finances.
  • Communication: Set up an agreement for regular texts, checking in, and daily communication. Also leave lists of contacts for any emergencies or questions and talk to teachers and other adults to let them know what is happening so they can be aware of any challenges and communicate with the parents.

The Challenges

You’ll miss your child and won’t be there for some milestones, no doubt about it. One unexpected challenge Alison’s family faced was when Jordan became sick for a couple of months. Though the family she was staying with was an amazing support,

She had constant trips to the doctors and issues with picking up prescriptions which meant she’d have to get me on the phone to speak to the pharmacy or the doctor’s office. Basically, logistical problems. The feeling for us of helplessness, wanting to be there for our child when she was experiencing a rough time…It was emotionally hard on us all.

The Takeaway

Parenting, no matter what decisions you make, is full of second guessing and not knowing whether you did the right thing until you have a little bit of hindsight. Jordan is now in her second year of college, and as her mom looks back at the time in high school, she’s discovered some unexpected benefits to the decision to let her stay in California,

I am glad we could give her this. She matured so much in that year and had a greater understanding of the responsibilities she’d have to take on when she moved to college. Our family is already close, but it brought us closer. She was able to graduate with her senior class and we flew out to be with her. She continued to be a part of her high school soccer team for her final year and see her friends who were on her traveling club soccer team. All the relationships she’d cultivated, she was able to be a part of without the worry of starting new ones before leaving again to go to college.

She’d always talked about moving away from us and looking forward to doing things for herself, but because of this experience she realized that wasn’t what she wanted at all. No matter what she ends up doing after college or where she goes to work, she is adamant that where we end up will be the deciding factor on where she settles, too–close enough to drive to see us. That’s what you want to hear when you’re a mom!


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