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Tweens and Teens

Creative Vacation Planning With Teens & Tweens

July 01, 2008
Summer is upon us. And if you're planning a family vacation, you may discover that your preteen or teen is decidedly more excited about the vacation part of the idea than the family part.

It is normal for a maturing child to still want to be included in the traditional family vacation, but it is also normal for him to feel annoyed at having to be stuck with his parents and siblings and away from friends. To successfully plan for a time of family bonding when at least one family member doesn't want to be seen in public with his family, keep these key words in mind: "choices," and "space."

When your child was younger, these concepts didn't really apply. You planned the trips, and all of your time was "together time," simply because your child was too young to be left alone. Once your child reaches adolescence, however, things change. Your child is now mature enough to add his voice to the decision-making process and to handle a safe and appropriate amount of physical distance from you.

Being creative about offering choices and providing space can make a vacation more tolerable and more fun for everyone. Offering choices means that instead of telling your preteen or teen exactly what he will do on vacation, you present him with options and allow him more control over his time and activities.

Providing space means that you find ways to let your child be separate from you, both emotionally and physically, as safety allows. The following suggestions can help you think of ways to provide both more choices and space with your child:

Work together on vacation plans

Work together with your child to choose a vacation destination that offers activities with appeal to an adolescent. Grandpa's farm may not hold the same allure that it did a few years ago. While Grandma and Grandpa are still beloved, the excitement of milking a cow or collecting eggs may now sound "totally boring." While you don't have to eliminate the farm altogether, think about adding a trip to the fair or another activity of your child's choice to balance the week. Many vacation destinations offer supervised programs for kids of all ages, giving parents time to enjoy adult activities, too.

Let your child be involved with the details of travel planning. Preteens and teens can help to map routes and choose motels, campsites or restaurants. Allowing him to have input into the "whats," "wheres," "whens," and "hows" of your trip can serve as a learning process and give him less of an excuse for complaining when his plans are carried through.

Let each family member choose a "first choice for fun" goal, and make sure it gets met. Before setting out on your vacation, make a list of all of the activities that will be available. Have each person go down the list and number his top three choices for fun. Then do your best to make sure that each first priority is satisfied. This way kids learn about compromise, get practice making choices and prioritizing, and feel that their needs are acknowledged. (Don't include anything on the list that you can't realistically carry out.)

Extend your family. Teens will have more space and independence from you if they have someone else they can spend time with. Think about letting your child bring a friend along, or plan to take your vacation with another family—either friends or relatives. When there are more people available, teens can be a part of the family group without having to spend all their time with parents. Traveling with a friend, favorite aunt or cousin offers a buffer that can work well for parents and kids alike.

Let your child have his own physical space when possible. This can mean anything from adjoining rooms in a hotel to his own tent at the campsite or table at a restaurant. Find ways to give him some appropriate independence while still including him in the big picture. A responsible young teen and his cousin can rent their own canoe, build their own campfire, or be on their own at the water park.

Offer forced choices. If your child balks at the idea of going to the petting zoo with younger siblings, let him choose between coming along or sitting by the pool until you return. If he doesn't like the restaurant where you have chosen to stop, he can find something he likes to eat on the menu now or wait until you get to the beach and get a hot dog from the vendor. (Make sure the choices are safe ones; let him know that going mountain climbing alone while you visit the museum will not be an option.)

Let him handle his own attitude. If your child wakes up with a case of the mood swings and begins to complain about the boring day you have planned for him, let him know that the negativity may ruin his day but you're not going to let it ruin yours. If you've been fair about offering choices and space, there's no reason to run around in circles trying to assuage his crankiness. And if you carry on with your plans and refuse to dwell on his bad mood, he may soon find he's having a good time in spite of himself.

Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville, Illinois, and the stepmother of two, ages 24 and 28. She can be reached at 847-782-1722.

Lisa M. Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville, Illinois, and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24.
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