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How Old Is “Old Enough” for Teens to Explore on Their Own?

by Elyse Glickman

Jun 7, 2018

© Tetyana Kochneva | Dreamstime.com

Age Specific / Teens

There comes a time in a teen’s life when he/she has formed his/her own interests, and the stirrings of wanderlust arise. With that, they may ask you about breaking off and exploring a destination on their own during your family vacation.


Assuming your forthcoming trip does not involve a resort with a kids’ or teen club, you will probably factor more questions in the planning process. Is the destination urban, rural or in-between? Are there any headlines or former government warnings involving local crime and dangerous neighborhoods? How will permission to let teens explore alone affect younger siblings? Most importantly, how does a parent determine if their teen has the emotional maturity to take care of one’s self on his or her own and look after younger siblings who may have those stirrings to go parent-free as well.


Florida-based family finance expert Kelly Winslow points out parents can generally establish emotional maturity and responsibility for younger siblings by carefully monitoring your child’s actions during everyday household activities. Are they particularly mindful of the younger kids when you are busy? Do they bring safety issues and other concerns to your attention if they arise? In addition, do they keep up with their basic household responsibilities without your having reminded them?


“It’s the answer to these questions and more that will help you achieve your ultimate decision,” says Winslow. “If you are considering letting your responsible teen explore, communication is the key. Establish when and how communication will be executed. Put together a few emergency methods if necessary, and explain to the child the importance of following the schedule. Dealing with this sort of situation on a domestic level is difficult but doable. However, if you’re traveling internationally, the stakes are even higher.”


Teens walking country

Photo: Rafal Stachura | Dreamstime.com


For these reasons, Winslow stresses parents do plenty of internet research on the destination before the departure date. She also suggests the extra step of reaching out to locals working at the hotel or living in the area in order to determine whether it is safe for teens to venture out on their own or if they can handle the unknowns that may arise in their wanderings or if they can take care of younger siblings who may also ask if they can go out on a parent-free adventure.


“If you broach the subject with the right mental attitude, you can get your point across without any hurt feelings,” she continues. “It’s very simple. Explain that you’ve found through internet research or otherwise that the area isn’t safe (for exploring on their own), adding that it’s not even an area that you would go to after dark. When your child sees that you yourself do not feel safe there, it should end agreeably and peacefully. You can tell (younger children) that they have not yet reached the age where they can be trusted, not necessarily because you don’t trust them, but that the older sibling has more experience under their belt should they be allowed to go on their own.”


Other proactive steps Winslow suggests is having teens text you at certain intervals, having a strict curfew (and seeing if they meet it) and providing a list of pertinent information they need to memorize, such as important phone numbers, the hotel address and emergency contacts they can recite to you before you grant permission.


She also suggests supplying them with a credit card instead of local currency since that will offer fraud and theft protection as well as a photocopy of their passport. A money belt instead of a traditional wallet or purse is also recommended, along with a small medical kit that can fit into the belt or backpack.


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