Family vacations and tension often go hand in hand, despite the best of intentions. And, when teens are involved, there’s the added stress of battling it out over their independence. But ask yourself how often your teenagers go out when they’re at home. If they’re accustomed to stepping out with friends, biking to after school activities solo or doing errands on their own, they should have a similar range of independence on vacation while factoring in safety.
That doesn’t mean you need to let them roam the streets of Bangkok at night, but you can pick and choose a vacation in a low-key, relatively safe and manageable area and give your teenagers tethered independence. Here’s how.
Give them a Firm Range to Explore
Telling your teenagers they can go explore means something different to parents than it does to kids. Tell your teens where they’re allowed to go and under what circumstances. Going swimming in the pool with a lifeguard on duty is okay for seasoned swimmers, but not okay at the beach with no one around. Walking down the sidewalk to a café for a smoothie and to look at magazines? Sounds good. But not deciding to Uber it across town to a club without some serious discussions about it from Mom and Dad first.
Establish Check-In Protocols
Parents worry. It’s just our jobs and there’s no avoiding it. Create peace of mind and accountability for your teen by establishing what time to check-in and any consequences for failing to meet the requirements. Let them know you expect them to text or call at noon and 3 p.m. and failure to do so within a 20-minute time frame will result in having vacation freedom revoked. Teenagers treasure independence and chances are they’ll fall in line to protect it.
Go Over Ground Rules
There should be ground rules on vacation, just like at home and your teens can have some independence and explore without compromising boundaries. Let your kids know going to the home of a local teen they met at the park may sound fun but is not acceptable without coming to you first. Same goes for deciding to just wander around town without a plan or hopping on the bus to see where it goes. Stay firm with the ground rules and set the consequences for breaking them, like loss of screen time, missed allowance or staying with the family for the rest of the vacation without the chance to explore.
Help them Budget (Then Let Them Figure It Out)
Teens are eager to taste their independence, but usually at the financial cost of Mom and Dad. Help them go over their finances and see where things stand with their allowance or checking account from a part-time job. Brainstorm how much is an appropriate amount to spend on their adventure, and how much should be used for an emergency like grabbing a taxi to get back to your hotel because they got a flat tire on their bike. But once the budget is set, let them figure it out. They’re likely to overspend or have buyer’s remorse, but it’s part of the process of learning to manage their money and need for instant gratification.
Praise Their Responsibility
Despite appearances, teens want to please their parents and earn their respect. But parents also need to let teens know they value their independence and responsibility and respect them for it. Of course, this isn’t a hard science and is, in fact, pretty tough to implement when your teens seem to make poor decisions more than they make good ones. But it takes some mutual respect on both ends to help your teens establish their independence and have confidence in their choices.
Remember when you give your teenagers independence on vacation, you also win as parents. You’re teaching them valuable lessons about responsibility and self-reliance. And it doesn’t hurt you’re getting in a little solo adult time of your own.