A strange thing happened six months ago. Overnight, my normally effusive, demonstrative and bubbly daughter turned into a grunting, withdrawn and secretive alien. Once an active and integral part of the family, she now hides behind headphones blasting out rock music, communicating only by phone or online with a privileged elite – her school friends. We call her the ‘deaf mute’ and feed her at regular intervals. It’s a disturbingly peaceful arrangement.
Of course, this throws family holidays into confusion. How do I convince this independent and vastly superior being to participate in an activity that, by its very nature, demands that she hang up the phone and leave the confines of her bedroom?
The answer – like any dealings with these unpredictable and complex creatures – lies in compromise. Here are a few of my tips to successful travelling with teenagers:
- When choosing a holiday destination, include your teen in the decision-making process. Listen to their needs and requests – you may be pleasantly surprised at the maturity of their opinions.
- Choose a multi-faceted destination. A holiday based on a single activity – such as a walking holiday in New Zealand or a beach retreat on a hideaway island – may bore your teenager to tears, and result in tantrums or sulking. Make sure there are plenty of options to keep your goldfish-attention-spanned child interested. If you choose a self-contained island resort, make sure that it has optional tours to other islands and attractions.
- You can never go wrong with theme parks. Children of all ages love waterslides, roller coasters and money-swallowing sideshows. Including a day’s excursion to a local funpark will improve the mood of your teenager immensely.
- Don’t expect any child older than 11 to join in kids' club activities. This is a recipe for disaster. Teenagers want to be as lazy and as undisciplined as an adult. Allow them the freedom of choosing their own activities at their own pace.
- Teenagers are the ultimate consumers. Give them some pocket-money and let them loose in local markets and shopping centres. Not only does this satisfy their desire to spend, but it also provides an opportunity for your teenager to explore the local culture.
- Don’t set night-time curfews. Your kids are on holidays from their daily routine too – let them stay up as late as they like (under supervision, of course). Allowing them to join in adult evening activities will make your teenager feel important.
- Let them eat what they like. This is no time for nagging about good health and nutrition. Encourage them to try the local cuisine – they are usually up for a challenge, as it provides great storytelling material on their return.
- Don’t stress if your teenager disappears for a few hours. She has probably met up with a like-minded alien, and will be back at feeding time.
- Internet cafes and resort business centres can provide a cheap and convenient link to civilisation – ie, friends. It will satisfy the lust for both communication and technology.
- Don’t turn on the television in your hotel room. If your teenager is unaware that The Simpsons is broadcast in every language in every country, she will not miss it. This applies to every child over the age of 2.
The key really is treating your teenager like an adult. Let’s face it, at this age they cost as much as an adult, so it’s important they are given the same respect when it comes to the decision-making process. Relax the parameters, lighten up and have fun – your alien daughter or son may be the best holiday companion you could possibly wish for!