When PCSing, build a RAFT for teens

by Dr. Dave Sanders and Raine Miller

Teens at Fort Leavenworth


A military teen recounts this transition story: “Summer camp had ended and the parents were there to pick us up. My buddy, Jose, came over to me, gave me a guy hug and said, ‘See you, man.’ I told him I would call him tomorrow, but he said, ‘No, I’m leaving. We’re driving to the airport in thirty minutes. I’m PCSing to Ft. Bragg.’ Before I could even respond, he got in the car and drove away. Unbelievable! I had just spent a week with him, and he hadn’t said anything about moving. I was hurt, and angry, and stunned, and sad. I couldn’t believe that anybody could actually do that!”

Parents need to understand that this kind of “leaving” is not all that unusual for military brats. The most common strategies teens use with one another involve simple avoidance, picking a fight to create distance so it’s easier to leave, disconnecting through moodiness or hyperactivity, or adopting the “It’s all cool” act. 

This is why we need to build a RAFT instead! The concept of RAFT comes from Life in Motion: Growing Through Transitions by Ruth E. Van Reken and Amy Casteel. The push-away or neglect strategies actually prolong the transition because teens know they haven’t handled things well and friends are hurt. Living with that wrong sense of leaving can haunt them for years and take its toll on future relationships. As a parent, consider the RAFT idea as a better coping strategy to help your teen develop strength in their relationships and positive patterns for the future.


Four parts to every RAFT

Here’s how to help kids cope with the inevitable transition by building a RAFT. 


Idea: Resolve unfinished business with anyone you need to put things right, resolve conflict, re-establish friendship.

Action Step: Ask your teen, “Are there any people you need to talk things out with before we go? I want to help you figure out how to do that. Let’s talk and make a list together.”


Idea: Thank those who have been important in our lives.

Action Step: Encourage your military brat to make a list of five people they want to thank for the kindness, counsel, encouragement and/or energy they have generously given. Bonus points if they do it face-to-face.


Idea: Say goodbye to people, places, pets and possessions.

Action Step: Facilitate and allow your family to take time to revisit meaningful places, people, and things. Ask them, “What will you miss/remember the most? How can we say goodbye and maybe take a token to remember this by?”

Think destination

Idea: Plan ahead for what will be needed to live successfully in the next place. 

Action Step: Ask things like, “What is the first thing you want to do when we get there (that doesn’t have to do with moving)?” Start and encourage dream sessions about ideal situations or new goals and then come up with a plan to try and make some of them come true (new hobby, change of personal style, different school activity, etc).

The “leaving stage” of transition is when teens begin to see the future and the present with mixed feelings of excitement for what will be gained and sadness for what will be lost. Help your adolescent (and family) cope with these natural reactions by enacting the strategies within RAFT. This will enable healing and a healthy transition and equip them with strategies for a lifetime of resilience.


Three Scriptures to balance your PCSing

1. God’s call for you in the move (Genesis 12:1-5): If you’ve ever wondered if God understands your issues when it comes to moving with your family—especially with your kids who often have no say at all—the Bible is full of stories about people PCSing. Such as Abraham, who was in and out of various cultures and situations. Sometimes his transitions went well; other times he totally blew it. The takeaway for your family: God called Abraham to PCS, was with him 24/7, and worked through him to bring about His eternal plans.

2. God’s shaping of you in the move (Genesis 27:1-45): Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, also moved a lot—and didn’t leave well because of unresolved conflicts. When we PCS without relational junk being dealt with, a few things happen. The anger and pain we feel doesn’t just go away. We carry it with us right into other relationships at new locations. Then in the future if we ever see those strained relationships, embarrassment and fear really eats at us inside, souring our hearts. God’s huge emphasis on reconciliation in Scripture is because He knows the toll it takes on us if not dealt with. Though a long story, you can see how this works out by following Jacob’s life over the years. 

3. God’s promise for you in the move (Daniel 3): The people of Israel were taken to Babylon as captives. Despite being there against their will, because of their skills Daniel and three of his friends had risen to prominent positions with the king. Yet the ruler could do with them whatever he wanted. Though they seemingly had no control over their external, bodily situation, they had complete control over their faith, internal values, and beliefs. But by trusting God with the outcome, they watched Him display his control, which ultimately led to the king and others worshiping God. Trusting God and holding on to what is right are strategies PCSing families can use in those times of feeling like you have no control.


Take it further with these steps

Step 1. Get together as a family and discuss this idea: when new to a place, as a means of fitting in, have you ever helped out someone? Try finding someone who needs help and lend them a hand. Turn this strategy around if you haven’t PCSed recently: find someone new to your location and ask for their help with something. 

Step 2. Discuss with your family and friends different ways they’ve used to get connected at a new place. Rate the various stories you have as to the worst (like selling drugs) or the best (joining a club or team) ways to get connected.

Step 3. Pray together as a family: “Lord, we pray that you would be close to us as we begin this new journey in our lives. We ask for your blessing on our lives as we begin a new life in a new place, find new friends, and experience new schools and jobs. Shelter us when we are at home, be our companion when we are away, and our welcome guest when we return. In all things, we pray that your presence will be our security, our one constant, when all else is changing. Amen.”


About Dave and Raine

Dave is a Christian Ministries professor at Judson University, special projects assistant for MCYM, and senior author/editor for the military teen website RezLife.com with American Bible Society. Dave’s daughter, Raine, is a freelance writer, reader, nomad, new wife, art historian, animal lover, Pinterest addict, horror fan and Christ follower.