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Understanding Third Culture Kids (TCKs)

On March 6th, 2023, Tanya Crossman, a leading expert from TCK Training and Unstacking Co. in the field of modern Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and issues facing cross-cultural families, came to Grace International School to give a talk on Understanding Third Culture Kids and share research-based best preventive practices for helping TCKs navigate the unique challenges they face.

A TCK is defined as someonewho goes with their family to live in a country where they are not citizens before the age of 18. One of the distinctive things about TCKs is their different cultures. TCKs have three cultures: legal, geographic, and relational. Legal culture is their passport culture. Geographic culture is one that they have firsthand experience with or is the culture of their parents. Relational culture does not refer to a place but to a culture that is formed between a group of individuals who understand each other due to a shared experience. They can relate to each other even if they do not share their legal or geographical culture. For TCKs, the third culture is home.

TCKs are unique, but with that uniqueness comes a shocking number of risks that parents and their community need to be aware of. According to research, TCKs, regardless of geography, are at higher risk of experiencing ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) than any other group. These include abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. The higher the ACE score, the hi
gher the risk of negative consequences in terms of behavior, health, and mental health. A study done by TCK Training of 1,904 adults who grew up as TCKs shows that TCKs are a high-risk group.

According to the study, 9% to 22% of kids in Australia, Ethiopia, the Philippines, and the US were emotionally abused by someone in their household, while that percentage is as high as 44% for TCKs, and the number is not much different across the different sections from business to missions. Fully 27% of TCKs have also said that they have experienced sexual abuse, compared to 21% of kids in America. Emotional neglect is also on the rise. This is not to say that TCKs are not loved by their parents, but there is a disconnect—they do not feel like they are loved.

The reality is that TCKs have good parents who are stressed. Increased stress in the family equates to increased emotional needs of the kids. Unfortunately, a lot of parents are stressed, have too much on their plates, and do not have enough capacity to take care of their children.

But these worrying statistics can be prevented. Research has shown that having six to seven PCEs (Positive Childhood Experiences) can decrease the chance of mental illness by 72%. The seven PCEs are:

  1. Heard: Being able to talk openly to a family member or as a family about feelings, and feel heard, accepted and supported.
  2. Belief: Believing that family stands by them during difficult times.
  3. Safety: Feeling safe and protected by an adult in the home.
  4. Friends: Feeling supported by friends.
  5. Belonging: Having a sense of belonging and connection with a larger group who has “got your back” (ex. school, churches, clubs, neighborhood, etc.)
  6. Traditions: Enjoying participating in community traditions.
  7. Relationships: Feeling a sense of belonging in high school + having two non-parent adults who took a genuine interest in them.

Another thing that parents can do is switch from Shut Down Responses to Safe Space Responses. Safe Space Responses require parents to be emotionally present with their children.

Shut Down Responses

Safe Space Responses








Be curious

Our TCKs are a vulnerable and at-risk population that needs to be intentionally cared for. Parental stress is a big factor in TCK high risk. Preventive care for TCKs takes many forms and requires the support of the community. Grace International School acknowledges these challenges and through different initiatives strives to provide a safe environment of belonging for our students to grow and excel academically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, as well as to cultivate a community where members care for one another.

Below is a list of books and resources for further reading. You may also connect with TCK Training through email and major social media channels.

Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids: A Practical Guide to Preventive Care: https://www.amazon.com/Raising-Generation-Healthy-Third-Culture-ebook/dp/B085VRX2LM

The Grief Tower: A Practical Guide to Processing Grief with Third Culture Kids: https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Tower-Practical-Processing-Culture-ebook/dp/B08TRWY12R

Unstacking Your Grief Tower: A Guide to Processing Grief as an Adult Third Culture Kid:

The Practice of Processing: Exploring our emotions to chart an intentional course: https://www.amazon.com/Practice-Processing-Exploring-emotions-intentional/dp/B09YQR7K4J

Email: info@tcktraining.com

Website: www.tcktraining.com
Social Media: @tcktraining