As they grow older, teenagers need space and privacy. As a parent, you need to balance their desire for independence with guidance and appropriate boundaries. This also holds true when you travel as a family.
Teenagers are deep in the process of defining and understanding themselves and on the cusp of making major life decisions. Encouraging them to reflect, explore and process the world around them partially on their own terms when you travel as a family can be a huge asset as they go through this important phase of life.
Nonetheless, giving teens ample space can be a bit nerve-wracking, and this is especially true in new and unusual surroundings.
Here are several tips so you both feel safe, secure and satisfied on your trip.
1. Talk about safety
Before you even leave home and get swept up in the act of traveling, have a long talk with your teenager about independence. You want to give her freedom to explore, but in exchange for this freedom, she unquestionably needs to abide by any guidelines you outline.
In addition to following all health and safety tips she's practiced her whole life—looking both ways before crossing a street, not accepting rides with strangers, etc.—she needs to appreciate and understand that there are cultural differences to be prepared for, like language barriers and unfamiliar cultural norms, such as how women may be treated in some locales. As such, being given independence in new places requires her to be mindful, make smart decisions and respect your wishes just as you're respecting her desire to venture out on her own.
An easy stepping stone for giving teenagers more leeway on a trip is to extend an invitation to one of her friends. Together, the two of them can enjoy the opportunity to be independent, while you rest easy knowing they are watching out for each other.
3. Provide separate accommodations
Some hotels or resorts offer adjoining rooms for families. Let your teenager have her own space, so she can get ready in the morning and unwind in the evening without being crowded out by the rest of the family. On a cruise, consider booking rooms across the hall from each other. Separate accommodations are especially nice for those families who have opened the invitation to a teen's friend.
Be especially aware of traffic laws and rules of the road. If cars travel in a different direction, don't forget to look the other way before crossing a street.
4. Choose a contained vacation
If you're not completely comfortable with letting your teen wander into the great unknown on her own, consider booking a family cruise or staying at an all-inclusive resort that offers activities of interest to teens. Letting her have free time within these more confined spaces can help ease some of your concerns while still providing the independence teens crave.
Of course, even within a contained space like a cruise ship or resort footprint, safety still comes first, and your teen should be equipped to make smart, calculated decisions with her independence.
5. Research your destination
Know before you go. When you decide on a destination, read up on the local culture with your teen. Be aware of any local laws and customs that could catch teenagers by surprise (such as rude behavior or inappropriate language) and note any common scams to avoid falling victim. Avoid shady or isolated parts of town and don't walk alone at night. Generally, it's better to stick to places with lots of people, but make sure your teenager is aware of any planned protests or rallies that could become heated.
Be especially aware of traffic laws and rules of the road. If cars travel in a different direction, don't forget to look the other way before crossing a street. In fact, it's always a good idea to double-check both directions. Also, in some destinations, foot traffic does not have the right away and stoplights are treated as suggestions. Make sure your teenager is aware of these things before heading out on her own.
6. Have a plan in hand
Though your teen may not have a minute-by-minute schedule before she heads out, she should share her general plan with you. What neighborhoods will she be in, what attractions is she going to see, and where will she be shopping? What is her intended route to get there?
Make sure she is appropriately carrying money (avoid easy-to-snatch purses), and encourage her not to flash jewelry, electronics or large amounts of cash when she's out and about. It's best to remain conspicuous and unnoticeable. Give her a business card of your hotel in case she gets turned around and can't find her way back.
7. Check in with your teen
Before departing ways in the morning, establish specific times and places you will meet up with your teen throughout the day. If you plan to check in via text message, make sure your family's data plan is appropriate for your destination and everyone has a fully charged phone.
Planning an actual meeting spot gives lots of parents peace of mind, as phones can be misplaced, and text messages can be difficult to send when there are lots of people using a single network. At an amusement park, this may be as simple as touching base outside a certain attraction before parting ways again. In a new city, getting together for lunch at a café is a great way to check in.
Even though your teenager craves independence, you're still her parent and you need to trust your gut.
8. Prohibit driving
Even if your teen has her driver's licenses, she's still a new driver, and driving in a foreign country can be intimidating and downright dangerous. This is especially true with scooters, motorbikes and other two-wheeled modes of transportation. Instead, suggest use of public transportation like subways and trams, and if she uses a taxi service, make sure she knows what registered, legal taxis look like. Better yet, encourage walking.
9. Supervise as appropriate
Even though your teenager craves independence, you're still her parent and you need to trust your gut. Traveling is a great opportunity to try new things and stretch comfortable boundaries, and you should encourage her to embrace these opportunities. If she's always wanted to learn to surf or rappel, this is a great time to do it. But make sure the excursion is booked with a reputable company. If you're not completely secure with your teen going it alone, then sign up with her and turn it into a bonding experience—or watch from the beach or a safe distance.
Set an early curfew so there is ample family time on your vacation. After your family has reunited at the end of the day, encourage your teen to talk about what she did and where she went on their own. And do the same from your perspective. In addition to any exciting encounters, she needs to be completely open and comfortable with talking to you about any concerns she may have had, especially moments when she felt uncomfortable or unsafe.
Travel often throws unexpected circumstances at us, but together you can come up with a plan so your teen knows how to address a similar situation next time.