For teens, going on holiday with friends but without your parents is a milestone.
For parents, it’s a scary moment usually preceded by arguments and fraught with fear. Sending your teenager on vacation with a group of friends can feel like taking a huge leap into the unknown with no net. We worry that they will get into trouble, get hurt or scammed, put themselves or others at risk, drink too much, take drugs and do other things that we don’t even want to imagine.
However, for older children, taking a holiday without you can be an important step and provide a host of benefits. Here are some tips for meeting that moment head-on, in a positive way that prepares teenagers for holidays without parents while also allaying your concerns.
1. Think honestly about your teen’s strengths and weaknesses
All children are different. Some 16-year-olds are more responsible than 20somethings, others make toddlers look mature. It can be easy to focus on the stereotype. But expecting the best and being honest about what they can cope with and what will stress them out will help make conversations with them about a trip more fruitful. You can entice them to role play situations that they might be nervous about — for example, a quick quiz while driving to the shops about what they would do if x or y happens.
2. Talk straight with them
It’s no use pussyfooting around the risks and dangers, acting like they won’t be confronted with them or that they will naturally follow all that great advice you’ve been dishing out for years. You’ll find that letting your teen know that if they do drink (ahem) it’s important that they open their own bottles, stay with friends and leave with friends, and moderate their intake.
Likewise, address the topics of drugs (including experiences like, say, taking ayahuasca, which is promoted as a way to expand self-awareness so, hey, it must be natural and ok, right?). Talk about sex as well — the need to stay safe. Let them know your foremost concern is their physical, mental and emotional safety.
3. Get teens to plan their holiday as a group
Encourage your teen to get their friends together — either in person or on a video call — to map out their travel, their accommodations and their general plans. As any avid traveller knows, this is a learned skill and will help make any trip more enjoyable. They can talk to their friends about any special activities they want to do and generally chat about what they are most looking forward to, so everyone is on the same page.
Planning will also help when it comes to thinking about how they will stay connected and in touch — how to charge their phones, who will bring a map in case mobile coverage is spotty, etc.
4. Prepare a budget together
One of the most important things you do on holiday is stick to your budget. This is definitely a valuable life skill and, as a nice bonus, will give your teen greater appreciation of holidays with parents, who are there to pick up the bill for water skiing or five-star meals.
If your teen is going on foreign holiday, then track the currency and exchange rates and test them in the weeks before they leave to calculate the converted prices, so they get used to doing the mental math. Go over good practices such as keeping money in several places so if one stash is lost or stolen, there are still funds available.
5. Review first aid
Arm your child with a basic first aid kit and go over actions to take for things like jellyfish stings, concussion, choking and other situations they may experience at their destination. (You can also sign them up for first aid courses for teens.)
If they are staying in one place, put together a list of nearby hospitals or clinics. If they are travelling in foreign countries, write down the number of the emergency services and make sure they have at least a phrase or two to communicate with emergency personnel.
Remind them that they need to carry a copy of their travel insurance including policy information and contact numbers at all times. (We know from an experience when a friend slipped and broke her arm on a day trip that there’s no use leaving it in your suitcase back in your hotel room/tent/yurt.)
6. Talk to the other parents
When our kids were in primary school, we knew all the other parents. As they get older, Amir’s mum or Shelley’s parents are more like mythical creatures we never actually see. Have your teen get contact information then actually get in touch beforehand — email is good, a phone call is even better and an in-person meeting if you can manage it really puts faces with names. When we’ve done this, other parents have thanked us for getting in touch and we’ve continued texting and coordinating as time has gone on.
Knowing also that their parents can communicate means that your group of teens are less likely to make up…shall we say stories about their plans, what they’re doing, who else will be there and so on.
7. Let them know that you need to feel comfortable
Their desire to go on vacation with friends is about the fun they are going to have. But let them know that it has to work for you. It’s not an option for them to go away for a weekend or a week and you spend the entire time worrying about their well-being.
Establish a check-in schedule, with consequences if they don’t stick to it. Your comfort will result in a better trip for them.
8. Remind them that they can call you no matter what
If things get hairy, they may worry you’ll get angry, chew them out or force them to come home. You may actually do all those things, if only privately. But remind them that most of all you will help them sort out any issues or problems they feel they can’t handle on their own.
9. Trust but verify
Do your own homework and confirm the details of their holiday. You may turn up valuable information — the ferry they hope to take on Thursday afternoon only runs in the mornings, the tent that Joseph’s bringing only sleeps 4, not 6. Bring up any discrepancies in a positive, fact-oriented and problem-solving way. It’s all about helping make it a great trip for them.
10. Show them that you’re proud of them
While we might want to always keep our children with us and protect them from the slings and arrows of life, it’s empowering for your teen to hear that you appreciate they are taking a big step by travelling without you. Teen-only getaways will build their confidence, help them solve problems and be more self-reliant. They may also find some aspects of it daunting — you’ll help them handle it by expressing confidence in them.
More advice for parents of teens