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Is moving a lot bad for kids?

Lots of studies show that kids who move a lot tend to have more problems in school and other types of behavioral difficulties. But do those problems last into adulthood? A new study indicates that they do.

Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia and colleagues studied 7,108 U.S. adults ages 20 TO 75 who were surveyed in 1994 and 1995 and again 10 years later. The subjects were asked how many times they had moved as children, as well as about their psychological well-being, personality type and social relationships.

The more times the subjects moved as children the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and psychological well-being, the researchers reported in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. They also tended to have fewer quality social relationships.

Introverts, not surprisingly, tended to fare more poorly because of a lot of moves, with the introverts reporting being worse off as adults the more moves they had as kids. Similarly, neurotic people who moved a lot reported less satisfaction and poorer psychological well-being than people who did not move as much and people who were not neurotic. Neuroticism is defined as being moody, nervous and high strung. The number and quality of neurotic people's relationships had no effect on their well-being, no matter how often they moved as kids, however.

And people who moved a lot as kids were also more likely to die before the second wave of the study. The reason for that remains unclear, but moving may cause more stress, which can negatively effect health.

By Rob Stein  |  June 16, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health , Mental Health , Motherhood , Stress  
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I was an "Army brat", and attended 7 different schools before I graduated high school. (These were public schools, not on-base schools.) I never had any problems adjusting after each move, and I don’t think I suffered from any long term issues. The vast majority of military kids I’ve known are the same way. I think as long as your parents are supportive, most people can deal with moving just fine.

Posted by: Herndon2 | June 16, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Did this study ask WHY the family moved? Poverty, job loss, parental illness and spousal abuse can trigger frequent moves and perhaps those impact the person's well-being?
For families where the job (military, government, other) requires regular moves, there is plenty the parent(s) can do to include the kids in the process, give them a role (packing, painting new room, planting new garden, etc) and some power. Like Herndon said, parents have a powerful role in helping kids to adjust.

Now that moving away does not mean breaking the connection - email, Facebook, free long distance - will a study like this in 10 years have a different outcome?

Posted by: NoVaMusicMom | June 16, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I agree with NoVaMusicMom that social networking will help tremendously with this for future.

For myself, thanks to being an Army brat, I'd lived in three countries other than the US and attended nine schools in twelve years. I still have trouble with my multiplication tables because of a move in the middle of the school year.

I hated having my toys and many of my books thrown out before we moved. I've lost keepsakes through destruction of items in the moving process and theft from storage vaults.

With the newer supportive services available to military families, I think and hope that things are better now. But I think the data presented seem about accurate. All the additional stresses, in my case including evacuation from Saigon as a pre-schooler, are going to contribute to quality of life issues.

Therapy can help.

Posted by: Fabrisse | June 16, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Eh, we moved a bunch when I was growing up, and while each time it was difficult to leave friends and familiar surroundings, I'm no worse for it today as an adult (and I'm definitely an introvert).

In fact, I'd go as far as saying that I'm probably better for it. I've moved many times as an adult for grad school and jobs and, perhaps because of going through it as a child, I don't really blink at the thought of packing up and moving again (something I'll be doing yet again in about two months, for the 5th time in 8 years).

Posted by: arlingtonresident | June 16, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Marine brat. On average, I've moved every 2 years. That's 7 schools in 12 years, 8 bases. Except for one move (before 9th grade) I enjoyed moving, including packing, traveling and a new school. Not sure I could be called stressed or neurotic. I'm a pretty laid-back person!

It really depends on the person, circumstances and support system.

Posted by: heddylamar | June 16, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I completely agree with this article. Moved three times as a child related to parental job losss/relocation. Unfortunately for me, two of the moves were into school districts that were consolidating facilities after the baby boomers aged out. I went to 8 schools in 12 years.
Contrast that with my younger brother who experienced only one school district. I am far worse off than my brother in all of the areas mentioned in the article.

Posted by: lilacwine | June 16, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I was a Federal civil service brat. I lived for at least 3 months in 11 different places (that I know of) before my 11th birthday. After that, the moves slowed down. (In the last 55 years, I've lived in 8 places. Three of those were for than a year, the other 5 were for at least 4 years each.)

My parents paid for some psychological evaluation and counseling while I was in high school. The counselor noted that my tests showed that I preferred to stay in one place.

Yes, I'm an introvert. I am reluctant to move, even when I know it would be beneficial.

Posted by: rlguenther | June 16, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm an introvert and a Navy brat, but I don't think moving (7 times by my 18th birthday) did me any harm. Like Herndon, I think the parents' attitude shapes the kids', and mine were always positive about it. My siblings and I also agree that being able to live overseas as kids was a great thing for all of us, and wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I think living in different parts of the country (and world) made us more open-minded, and moving made us more flexible and independent.

Posted by: EinDC | June 16, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I suspect there's more to it than just the move itself and personality issues -- it's also the when, the where, the who, the support systems, etc. I am completely in the introvert/moving was hard camp. I am pretty happy and successful now, but it definitely feels "in spite of" not "because of." The things that made it bad:

(1) Moving in the middle of elementary school to a very small town where all of the kids had known each other since they were born. I suspect it's easier to make friends when the population is more transient and kids are used to other kids coming and going. When you're the only kid to come or go over the course of three years, and the social circles were established years before you ever got there, it's hard to find a place to fit in. And being "different" didn't help (we were gown, they were town; we were poor; I was smart and nerdy; my mom was a feminist divorcee in a red state, etc.). Also no other family or support system nearby.

(2) Moving ANYWHERE during junior high. Talk about a bad time to start over! Smart/nerdy + braces/glasses/zits = argh! Everyone is so insecure at 13 that the cliques and Queen Bee-ism were pretty intense. Luckily, after a few false starts that ended very badly, I did find a couple of good friends after about a year and a half, and life was sooo much nicer!

Big factors that "saved" that move: much larger town with a bunch of different races/colors/creeds/politics, so my family didn't stick out so much; we moved at the beginning of junior high, and the school mixed kids from several elementary schools, so I wasn't the only kid without a set "group"; and maybe most important, the school had a bunch of interest-based clubs that I could join and meet other kids like me (met my first good friend in orchestra, who introduced me to my subsequent best friend, etc.). Plus I was older and not so dependent on the kids in the neighborhood to play with me -- I could always just ride my bike to the library.

Posted by: laura33 | June 16, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I have a relative who moves every 1-2 years out of sheer restlessness. Her young kids have been diagnosed with all manner of psychiatric conditions, and she would tell you her marriage has been under a lot of stress from the moves as well. But apparently they keep thinking when they find the perfect place, all the stress will go away.

Posted by: sarahabc | June 16, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

NoVaMusicMom: Kids aren't interested in the reason for the moves. Those details are inconsequential to them. what is important to them is the severity of the impact the moves have on them.

You may find such information interesting, but kids are only concerned that their being uprooted over and over again, for whatever the reason.

I'm a single dad who raised his kids from when they were little. We moved, within the same city, a couple of times, yet I made sure they never changed schools. That way, they had the continuity of the bonds of friendship to sustain them as they grew.

It worked.

Posted by: joecairo | June 16, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Air Force brat here (I see only the Coasties don't have a representative in the replies yet). We moved eight times before I was 14, but luckily I was able to stay in one place for high school. My parents are from opposite sides of the world and I am the person I am because of the cultures I come from and the moves we made. I had to figure out how to make friends with anyone (small town, big city, different languages) and still be comfortable with my own company (I disliked moving at the beginning of the summer since you didn't have time to make school friends). In the end, I loved it and wouldn't trade it for anything. We're a family with some serious wanderlust and the military fit the bill perfectly.

On a side note, my husband (Army brat who's family managed to homestead) wonders how I have no sentimentality when it comes to objects. Please, I'm not hauling that piece of junk across the planet to pay for it to be in storage just because your eighth grade best friend gave it to you. You have photographs, those pack easier. :)

Posted by: em15 | June 16, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the study. I moved 5 times in 12 years and definitely did not adjust well after each move. It was especially painful because I was very shy when I was in my childhood, pre-teens and teen years.
My younger brother, on the other hand, attended one school system and is much more successful in all areas of life.

Posted by: bringbackimus | June 16, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I am ambivalent about the study results. I moved 9 times and attended 10 different schools before attended college. High school and college were the only schools that I attended start to finish. I did not experience difficulty in school and had excellent grades. So that part of the study findings were different for me. As to the number of close friends, it is true that I few close friends. In terms of shyness, I test out as a situational extrovert. In terms of moving - I loved it and its consequences: loved new places, new things, new scenery. I dislike clutter of any kind and travel light. I definitely have the travel bug and I appreciate differences between cultures. I find that those who have never moved to be less tolerant of change and less tolerant of cultural differences.

Posted by: otis1 | June 16, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

You wrote "can negatively EFFECT health."
You meant "can negatively AFFECT health."

Posted by: johndoe21 | June 18, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

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