Life On the Other Side

How to Survive Vacationing With Your Teen


Family vacations commonly alternate between being relaxing and stressful. A break from the daily routine and experiencing new places, foods and schedules can be both exciting and stress-inducing.

Traveling with small children is sometimes difficult. After packing enough clothing and toys to anticipate any possible scenario, you then realize you also have to carry it all, in addition to your own things.

Maybe you have reached a point when you think you have the formula down. Your child is big enough to pack and carry his or her own things and you look forward to the trip. Then you realize that he or she has grown into a teenager who once again hates everything. As frustrating as this is, your vacation can be salvaged. There are ways to have a pleasant trip, one that everyone can enjoy.

Talk about everyone’s expectations before you leave home

Although the rules will be different while away from home, you will still have rules. Ask questions to discover what your teen expects from the trip. Things go much more smoothly when everyone has the same expectations.

Will the vacation entail all family time, all the time, or will there be times when the group can split up? Will everyone have to participate in every activity? If not, will the non-participants be expected to patiently watch what others are doing or will there be other options? Even considering the possibilities can help you discover new options that may be even more fun for everyone.

When possible, let them have a say in activities

As kids get older, they want to have some level of control over what they do. Allowing them to choose some activities (or maybe plan a single day of the trip) not only increases the odds that you will have an engaged, happy teen rather than a sullen, angry one, it also increases the possibility that he or she will desire to go on later family trips (assuming that you want this). You may get several days of positivity if everyone approaches their suggestions with a positive outlook.

Having a family of six, I have found that it is sometimes difficult to find activities that engage everyone. Sometimes, it is easier to go along with what one person wants knowing that you will have a turn as well.

Allow them to go off on their own

If your teens are mature enough to go to the mall or other public place on their own at home, they can also handle some independent time on vacation. While this of course will vary depending on the location you travel to, you can set limits and require them to check in regularly.

While I was reluctant to admit my kids were capable of this, I learned that many trips sponsored by youth groups are lightly chaperoned, with several hours going by between check-ins or in some cases an entire day. On these trips, they were simply given a time to meet with the expectation that they would show up at that time. If they can manage that responsibility with others, they can manage it with you.

Let them stay in sometimes

Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, they simply do not want to go do things with the family. Maybe you are leaving too early in the day for them, or the planned activity seems uninteresting. Even if you are certain that they will regret it, leaving them behind is sometimes the only way the rest of you will enjoy your time. (It is also a way for them to learn that they will be missing out on fun if they choose to stay behind.) Let them know the boundaries (for example, stay in the hotel room, or only go to the pool, etc.) and make sure they know who to contact in case of emergency.

Your hotel room or rental is your home while on vacation. If they can be trusted to stay home alone, it makes sense that they can be trusted there (again, this depends on your destination).

Remember that they are still kids

Teenagers are stuck in the middle. They are not quite adults, but no longer children. They are struggling to find their place and figuring out how they should behave. Vacations are a time to relax and let go of the rigid structure of everyday life. They are often filled with novel experiences and activities that are designed to be fun. Many teens are serious, but this relaxed atmosphere sometimes makes them forget that how they are “supposed” to act and some silliness comes through. Let them be silly. Encourage it even. Above all, don’t point it out or poke fun at them. Remember that the goal of vacation is fun for all of you.

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