Tips for traveling with teens and ‘tweens
Around the time kids hit the double digits, it’s like a switch is flipped. Suddenly traveling with parents is kind of lame. Passing the time with arts and crafts is passé. Hotel kids’ programs are, like, bogus. Suggesting a family car game of I Spy is met with groans. They’re maybe even too cool to hang by the pool.
It’s a tricky transition stage, but if you can overlook a few sighs, tuts and eye rolls, you can still travel with your tween and teen children and even create some positive memories through the experiences.
Tweens, roughly ages 10 to 13, have one foot in childhood and the other rushing towards adolescence. If you’re lucky, you’ll still catch glimpses of the sweet, wide-eyed wonder that was, but the innocence is waning. It seems to be happening faster and faster these days – 12 is the new 15.
By the time the teen years hit, it’s tough to hold a scintillating conversation with your offspring (“So what do you think of the pyramids, dear?” “I dunno.”), but that’s all the more reason to keep tugging on those lines of communication. There’s nothing like 24/7 togetherness on a road trip or sharing a hotel room to push through those barriers and forge a bond. Play your cards right, and your kid might actually have a good time, even if it isn’t expressed on the outside.
Don’t take that bored, vacuous expression as evidence of a bad trip. Whereas young children express their displeasure outwardly with fussiness and tantrums, older kids tend to withdraw inward, get sullen, and act moody. As a parent, you no longer have a magic blankie, binkie or bottle to help soothe your savage beast. So what can you do to keep your over 10 travel companion content on a trip?
Consider personal electronics to be your tween/teen pacifier. Gizmos like Game Boys, PlayStation Portables, iPods and cellphones are hardware appendages to kids these days and cutting them off cold-turkey during a family trip is not necessarily the best strategy.
Handheld games are an indispensable cure for terminal boredom. Tuning in to music sets the tone of the holiday with a memorable soundtrack. Checking in with the gang back home via cellphone, text message or email (maybe even an antiquated snail mail postcard!) from time to time provides the opportunity to brag about the trip. Add a digital camera or camcorder to the mix to inspire a creative point of focus for your kid to record travel memories.
Set useage limits so the entire vacation isn’t spent plugged in and checked out from the rest of the family. You can always use a few extra minutes of gadget time as a bribe for good behavior.
Don’t forget to pack batteries, rechargers, plug adapters, currency converters, phone cards and any other paraphernalia required to keep these gizmos going.
Just like MP3 players, growing kids need to recharge their batteries on a regular basis too, especially when away from home. Respect boundaries and try not to pack too much activity into each day; in fact, actively schedule in some daily downtime to lounge around with no agenda (good advice for the grownups, too). It may seem like your kid is sleeping away the vacation like a stereotypical lazy teenager, but it’s akin to toddlers needing a nap – there’s no point fighting human nature on this front.
If your t(w)eenager is old enough to be left unsupervised, let him or her opt out of a family outing once in a while. Grabbing a little alone time to order room service and watch a movie while you go out on the town is not such a bad deal for both parties concerned. If you’re traveling in a relatively safe area and you’re comfortable letting go of the reins a bit, give your young adult some freedom to explore, head to an internet café, grab a latte, go shopping or mingle with peers at the pool.
For some tweens and teens, the ideal travel scenario is to meet up with other similar-aged family vacation hostages (maybe even one of the opposite gender!). Some resorts and cruises have made a good effort to foster social opportunities for this demographic, knowing that they are well beyond the “make a shell bracelet” and “beach treasure hunt” stage of the children’s clubs.
It takes more than a room with a VCR and a ping pong table for teenaged strangers to strike up a friendship. Some resorts like Club Med have gone all out to appeal to this hard-to-please generation, offering programs like hip hop dancing, graffiti art, sound mixing, film editing, trapeze and trampoline. Cruise lines like Carnival have teen-only lounges with internet access, movie nights, dance parties and the like. It’s a safe space to hang without the folks, kid sister and little brother around.
Consider bringing a friend along on the trip with your tween or teenager. You may be a cool, fun, easy-going parent, but friends are all-important at this stage. Having a built-in buddy around takes a lot of the pressure off the family dynamic and can make for a more enjoyable get-away for all.
Make sure the guest is compatible with your clan and is willing to follow your family rules, plus ensure you have all medical, insurance, and contact information with you. A signed parental permission letter is necessary if you’re crossing a border.
Some people are happy to pay for their son or daughter to join you on your family vacation, or at least contribute to food and lodging expenses. Others might expect you to pick up the tab (easy to do if you’re driving and the kids can share a bed). Alternatively, try to coordinate itineraries and meet up with other traveling families or cousin contemporaries at your destination – you’ll both have the added pleasure of peer company around.
Get ‘em Involved in the Planning
If you really want to get your tween or teen on board with this year’s family vacation, task ‘em with a little research project to shortlist some destination options and come up with a game plan. Not only will this empower your budding adult-to-be, you’ll be amazed at what a thorough, detailed report an authentically inspired research assistant can come up with. Today’s tech-savvy tweens and teens grew up on the web (they never knew a world without it), and they know how to dig for what they want.
Beach Resorts, Foreign Ports, Extreme Sports
What most young people really want is an experience that will wow their friends back home. Anything a little adventurous, luxurious or exotic earns IM bragging rights. Look at the school schedule, consult the calendar and work out the best time to get away. There’s something for every taste, budget and energy level. Here are just a few ideas to consider:
- an all-inclusive beach getaway
- cruise the high seas
- learn to sail, windsurf, water ski, snorkel
- take up snowboarding, snow shoeing, dog sledding, ice skating
- become a certified scuba diver (youth programs start around 10)
- take an escorted family bike tour
- get pampered at a spa (some have services geared to tweens and teens)
- pick a big city, explore restaurants, theatre, museums and shop til you drop
- have a culinary adventure – learn to cook or theme a trip around food
- learn a new language together
- go on a safari
- be historical (think pyramids, Machu Picchu, medieval castles)
- go camping and hike the national parks
- tour some college towns and get ready for the next big step
- you’re never too old for a theme park
There’s only a few more years left until you launch your child into the realm of adulthood. So make memories, instill family values, share some laughs and have few adventures while you can. A world of opportunity awaits.