Inside:Why traveling with your teen or tween can be one of the best things you do for them and for your relationship
Written By Jill Whitney, LMFT
When my kids were in elementary school, a wise friend told me that when they each turned 14, I should take them on a trip. I followed her advice and it was one of the best parenting decisions I ever made. It has had a lasting positive effect on my relationships with my teenagers and it is why I can’t encourage you enough to travel with your teen too!
Traveling with Your Teen – Why 14?
I’m not sure it’s that exact age that matters. It’s really more about the stage of life.
The tween and teen years are often socially and emotionally difficult. Kids can start to feel like their school is the entire world and like the social problems and role they have now will define them for life.
Taking them into a new environment helps them see how the world is full of possibilities and different ways of being.
It’s also a way to deepen your connection with your teen.
Building a solid relationship in the tween and early teen years creates a healthy foundation for the more shaky teen years that are ahead.
If you want to start this tradition of a “14 trip” with your family, here are some tips to get you started:
How To Plan Your Own “14 Trip” And Why Traveling With Your Teen Is So Important
Set parameters, especially regarding the length of the trip and its cost.
I told my kids it had to be a domestic trip. (International travel is wonderful too, if you can afford it. But my goal was showing my kids more of the real world, not museums and sight-seeing.)
It might be a weekend in a city a couple hours away. You could even consider a volunteer work or mission trip, where you help people recover from a natural disaster or do a project in a disadvantaged area. You set the framework based on whatever is realistic for you. There are tons of great teen travel trip ideas.
Ideally, the less-connected parent should go.
Often a child has a stronger relationship with one parent—due to temperament or common interests–and less connection with the other. Teens benefit from having a good relationship with both parents. The 14 trip is a chance to even things up a bit, which can be helpful if you hit a rocky patch at some point during the teen years.
Choose somewhere new to both of you.
The goal is not to show your child around somewhere you already know, but to explore someplace together, on more or less equal footing.
Don’t go to a resort.
This is not the time to go to Disney World, a beach in the Caribbean, or a ski resort. What you want is someplace real, someplace ordinary people live. That’s especially important if you live in a well-to-do area where most of what your kid sees are “successful” people with fancy houses. There are many, many different ways to live a good life. There is a wide world out there.
Enjoy the planning process, together.
Having your child join in a lot of the planning is a big learning experience—an introduction to some of the realities of the adult life (it’ll be here soon!). Budgeting (including financial trade-offs), route planning and map reading (including paper maps), and the process of booking tickets and choosing hotels all develop skills your kid probably hasn’t practiced before.
Build off your child’s interests.
If you can, start with a location that ties into something your child is passionate about. You might have the centerpiece of the trip be a concert, a sports event, an outdoor destination, or anywhere your kid is curious to see. Kids in my extended family built trips around auto museums in Michigan, Broadway musicals, historic sites in Philadelphia, and a NASA facility in Florida. From that core, you can create a trip. Anywhere you go—even small cities and rural areas–there are interesting and unexpected places to discover.
Set parameters about using devices.
The 14 trip is about connecting with each other and noticing the wide world. That means neither of you should be looking at your phone the whole time. As part of the planning process, agree that devices (especially social media) will be used only at specified times of day, maybe a half hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. Your child may howl at first, but will likely enjoy the break from social media once they settle into it.
Much of the trip will focus on your child’s interests, but the experience is for both of you. My son at 14 was obsessed with cheeseburgers and mac ‘n’ cheese, so we ate in a lot of places that offered those…but I’m too much of a foodie to do that every night.
A couple evenings we chose restaurants where I could get something I’d really enjoy and he could manage. Same with activities. If your kid gets to see something that interests her, she can be open-minded about doing something you want to see or do. The give-and-take about all this teaches valuable listening and negotiating skills and helps your kid see you as an actual person, not just Mom or Dad.
Let the conversations unfold naturally.
A chunk of one-on-one time with your child makes space for all sorts of topics to come up. That might include social situations at school, sexual questions, or concerns about family life. But don’t bring an agenda. Exploring a new place and making decisions about how to use your time gives you plenty to talk about. If “important” topics happen to come up, that’s just an added bonus.
Traveling with your teen doesn’t have to be a big production or cost a lot of money. But is is a decision you will never regret. The memories of your time together with last a lifetime and strengthening the bond between you will be invaluable as the years ahead will certainly put your relationship to the test.
So get out a map, buy a few travel books or bookmark some of your favorite travel sites and starting planning.
Jill Whitney, LMFT, is the mom of two twenty-somethings and a licensed marriage and family therapist in Connecticut. In addition to her clinical work, she conducts workshops on talking about sexuality, writes at KeepTheTalkGoing.com, and has been quoted in dozens of articles on relationships and sexuality. She’s passionate about improving communication about sexuality, especially between parents and kids.