I have just returned from a beach trip with our kids who are all teens. It was ripe for moody withdrawals, complaining, begging for souvenirs and eye-rolling boredom. It’s not my first time vacationing with teens, so I knew how to make it a terrible time.
Plan every minute. Oh yes, they love it when every minute is scheduled by someone else. Insist on family togetherness, all the time. Right? It’s family vacation, after all, and demanding that your teen spends every moment in your company is essential.
Take photos constantly. Whatever. They take selfies and post snaps or “Be Real,” so why can’t you get a grin? Because that would mean pausing their own online activities…recipe for disaster indeed.
Schedule every minute, including meals. Okay, meals are a highlight for most teens, but when you tell them what to eat and when, it loses all the appeal. Teens are seeking independence, so keeping a tight leash and monitoring every action will result in revolt.
Enforce bedtime. Seriously? Am I five? No. “Bedtime” happens until noon each day and the nightlife is what happens after midnight.
What teens want is more freedom, but they also want to know what to expect.
It’s a tricky balance between giving them independence and still providing a loose structure for your family trip. Instead of imposing all your rules and expectations, switch the script and prepare to have a great get-away. There may be sulking or a tantrum, so try to move past the missteps, and ask them to do the same.
Adopt these ideas to enjoy the best vacation:
Lighten up! Try to remember why family vacation is even a thing — the goal is to bond and make memories together. This isn’t the time to teach lessons or discipline. It’s likely that life lessons will happen naturally as you spend time together, but this isn’t the reason for your getaway. Relax and let messes go. Let house rules slide and focus on relationships.
Provide space. When you expect your teen to spend every moment with you, it’s an expectation that will result in disappointment. When planning, opt for a multi-room rental or hotel suite. Do all you can to provide multiple bathroom spaces. Let your teen escape on his or her own to explore boardwalks, parks or whatever. We rented bikes and we let the ones with a license borrow a vehicle every now and then. Keep expectations clear about when to return and where the boundaries are.
Thrill them with adventure. Create a focal point during the trip that stimulates adrenaline. It might be a shark fishing trip, roller coaster rides or white water rafting. Teens are wired for that rush of risk and adventure feeds their need for fun. It gives them a goal and something to talk about with their friends.
Remember the food matters…but it doesn’t have to be expensive, just accessible. Teens love to snack, they love to eat. It’s nice to have a few great meals out on vacation and if you’re able, do it! Teen daughters, especially, seem to love the excuse to get dressed up to go out. But keep lots of their favorite snacks on hand, too. One of the thrills is having unfettered access to candies, sodas and other foods not always kept around the house. We brought a mix and made brownies, and I included sour gummy worms and dark Hershey chocolates in our grocery order. Going out to eat is special, but we also cooked for ourselves multiple times. The teens were even in charge of dinner for “Tuesday tacos at the condo.”
Loosen the tech boundaries. I still have my teen plug in his phone each evening outside of his room when we are home. But on vacation, I relax this rule. I don’t want to police behavior and it gives me a chance to gauge his maturity as he takes on more independence and responsibility in the tech department. Sometimes letting them know we trust them motivates our teens to behave more wisely than if they feel they have to be sneaky. We let the guys bring their video games too. Again, to redirect from screens, I try to provide lots of other options. Swimming, biking, boating, hiking and especially going into service free areas keep our young people engaged in reality.
Consider bringing a friend. At first I was opposed to this as it may interfere with family bonding. But I’ve seen it be a positive peer pressure for having a good attitude (no one wants to be embarrassed in front of a friend) and it builds good will with your teen. Just make sure you know and trust the friend and that you have enough space.
Be flexible. One thing is certain, teens are unpredictable. There might be some attitudes or moods that require a change of plan. You may need to get away from them for your own sanity and mood — that’s okay! Embrace the emerging independence and start expanding your own identity. I love to have a vacation date night with my husband and I also enjoy sneaking away to meet up with a friend for lunch while on vacation.
There are so many ways to vacation as a family. Do what works for yours! In my own season of teenage parenting, we are loving the less hands-on and more interesting season of vacationing. We share the driving responsibilities and encourage their input in the planning. It’s more fun than ever even though we aren’t together 24/7 like in the little-kid-years.