As children grow older, holidays with them become less about keeping them entertained and safe, and more about preventing their boredom ruining the trip for the rest of the family.
The truth is, it can be more tempting (and cheaper) to leave teenagers at home than risk their face-aching spoiling family holiday fun – particularly if you have younger children too.
But it is possible to have a great holiday with teenagers – you just need to have a different mindset from when they were young, choose the right holiday, plan it well and – crucially – involve your teens in the decision-making.
“The important thing is to discuss things sensibly and at length in advance,” stresses parenting and education consultant Gill Hines, co-author of Whatever! A Down-to-earth Guide To Parenting Teenagers. “Choosing the right holiday is essential if everyone is to fully participate – if everyone’s been involved in the decision-making and research, they’ll be far more invested in the trip itself.”
Where's the best place to holiday in mainland Spain? Need activities for teenagers and lovely restaurants. Anyone have any suggestions?
— Vrrmm 🌻😷💙 (@Jennyflower) June 21, 2020
To make sure the whole family, including the teenagers, enjoys their holiday, here’s what Hines suggests…
1. Have family holiday meetings
Hines recommends holding regular family meetings (whether you’re going on holiday or not) and making them a firm feature of family life before kids reach double digits and their brains start changing, “so they become established before non-compliance hits full power”. She says a family meal at a table or pizza in the living room with no gadgets allowed is a good time to talk.
2. Get everyone to write a holiday wishlist
Everyone who’s going on the holiday should think about what they’d enjoy most during the trip and write it down. Hines suggests asking everyone to then narrow down their choices to three to five things. “Everybody shares their shortlist, and these are then made into one long family holiday wishlist,” she explains.
3. Research destinations
Instead of just parents doing all the holiday research and choosing the final destination, teenagers should also get involved in finding the best place to go, armed with the family wishlist. “Everyone has to think about places they’d like to go or types of holiday they’d enjoy – they can browse what’s available within the budget online,” says Hines. Everyone’s top two destination choices can be discussed, and crossmatched with the list of ’things we enjoy’. While teens will prefer adventure activities and nightlife, younger children will want sea, sand, water or amusement parks, and parents might prefer quiet tavernas and a day spa, says Hines. “The point is to get everyone looking forward to the bits they enjoy, and more aware of the needs and wants of other family members,” she explains.
4. Can they take a friend?
If you’ve only got one child, or there’s a big age difference between them and their siblings – or even if there’s not – taking a teen’s friend on holiday with you can really help, Hines points out. Their friend’s parents may (hopefully) offer to pay a contribution to the holiday and for their flights etc, so it’s not necessarily an expensive option.
5. Rules are important
Once the holiday is chosen, it's time to start discussing the ‘rules’, maybe at another family meeting, suggests Hines, or with your teen on their own. She says parents should think about what they want to talk about beforehand, and warns: “Be prepared to negotiate – this is about bargaining, not laying down the law.”
6. Don’t plan things for mornings and expect teenagers to come
As parents of teenagers will know, they think mornings are for sleeping and definitely not for doing anything, especially when they’re on holiday. “Mornings are probably best avoided if you want a teen to be responsible and on their A-game,” stresses Hines. “They need an extraordinary amount of sleep and it comes in fits and starts. Bear this in mind for family excursions – if you want to climb that mountain all together, or visit that quaint seaside town, plan to leave about midday if you want them to come along.”
7. Plan for younger siblings too
Younger brothers and sisters are unlikely to want to stay in bed like their teenage siblings, so be sure to have an energetic morning activity planned for them while your teen sleeps in. “Younger children will be very bad-tempered if they have to stay in until big sib gets up, so make sure you have a pool, beach, field or park nearby, so they can be taken off at first light to run, walk or swim off some energy,” advises Hines.
8. Don’t expect teens to come on all your excursions
Teens don’t find being with the whole family easy for 24 hours a day, so plan some short excursions or activities, when they can be left behind if they choose, and some longer ones – perhaps from their wishlist – which they’re expected to attend. “Decide in advance which bits of the holiday are optional and which mandatory,” advises Hines.
9. Plan nights out
Teenagers will want to enjoy the holiday nightlife without their parents in tow, of course, especially if they’ve taken a friend with them. Hines suggests the night-out rules from home should apply on holiday, but with a view to relaxing them if your teen shows they are responsible.
“Negotiate some evenings out alone for yourself, but in return, allow them some as well – if taking a friend with them, this will be easier,” says Hines. “If you expect them to text every couple of hours at home, do the same, and if you have a curfew at home, have the same, but perhaps a later time at least once or twice during the holiday.
“Keep the rules tight to start with, but relax them a little if your young person is showing maturity. If they’re acting in any way irresponsibly or breaking the rules, keep them tightly under your wing.”
10. Discuss money beforehand
Talk about what allowance you’ll give teens and agree it before you go. “For example, you might fund that zip-line experience they want to try, but not a night out,” says Hines. “Be clear, be reasonable, and negotiate. Don’t pay or bribe them to do things – but negotiate kindly.”