Vacation Spoilers

Jon Stepping on David

A mom complained, “It used to be fun taking my kids on road trips, but now my 13-year-old daughter ruins everything.  She is on her phone the whole time!  When we ask where she wants to eat, she says, ‘I don’t care,’ then complains about wherever we go.  I get so tired of her sulking and making everyone miserable!”

Adolescence can be like an unwelcome passenger on a family vacation.  Though the benefits of traveling with teens are many – they can find the nearest Starbucks on their phone and heave suitcases out of the car – they may not help willingly, preferring instead to whine or grumble (“Why do I have to do everything?”).  Their bad moods can bring everybody down as they pick on siblings and act like nothing will make them happy.

Here are some helpful tips for frazzled parents:

1. Declare “No-Phone Zones.”   This can be 30 miles or 30 minutes, but do negotiate rather than dictating.  And be sure you participate, too!

2. Ignore bad moods.  I saw parents do this recently at a motel breakfast.  Their daughter, who was around 13,  sulkily slouched against the wall, not participating in the family chatter.   When she finally slid over and joined the conversation, she was welcomed and immediately included.  Which brings us to the next point:

3. Ignore good moods.  Don’t say, “Now isn’t this nice, when you’re actually being  happy?”  It will then become a matter of pride for him to prove that he is not happy; in fact, now he’s twice as grumpy because he’ll say you are picking on him!

4. Take the back seat.  Siblings get tired of sitting near each other, and the view from the back is boring.   Switch with your teen if s/he is old enough to be in the front seat; this will also give the back seat crew some of your attention.  If you’re flying, consider one parent sitting with each child instead of parents in one row and kids in another.

Take the middle road with moods and the back seat on the road (or in the air), and you may find that Adolescence isn’t so hard to travel with after all.


Bridge Builders and Burners

When I ask students what it means to build bridges, they say, “Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it.”  I sigh, roll my eyes, and explain that it means making a connection to somebody to build a relationship.  They’re surprised to hear such a thing.

As the school year winds down, some students are good at building bridges.  They realize they won’t be seeing certain people all summer (or even next year), so they can put up with them and show them some extra patience.

But then there are the bridge burners.  They won’t be returning (or they’re graduating), so they have an attitude of “doesn’t matter what I say, because I won’t be seeing you anymore anyway.”  They can make life difficult for those around them.

It’s a good idea for parents to chat with their teens at year’s end and see where they’re at emotionally.  Of course, this won’t be accomplished by marching up and asking point blank, “How are you feeling about the end of the year?”  You have to watch for your opportunity: a mellow moment at the end of the day, a relaxed time while watching TV, a lengthy car ride where nobody falls asleep.  Then be low-key and ask offhandedly, “Excited about the year ending?”

Be prepared to listen without too many questions or criticisms.  Comments of “Well, don’t worry. . .” or “Do you think that’s a nice thing to say?” will shut down communication.  Instead, use empathy with comments like “Oh, yeah, sounds tricky” or “Ouch, bet that hurts.” This will get you much farther and will show that you’re really listening.

An hour or a day later, you can say (again, offhandedly), “I’ve been thinking about what you said about (fill in the blank).  Want some advice?”  If not, let it go.  If so, give it as if you don’t care whether it’s taken or not.  Do be prepared that while your offer may be refused at first, you may be asked to advise a day or so later.

Just think – you’ll be building a bridge of your own!

Home Alone?

School’s almost out, and while many of us are rejoicing, some parents are facing the perennial quandary:  what to do with a young teen or pre-teen all day.  At what age are they ready to be left alone?    And when they are alone, how can you keep them from making bad choices?

Some 12- and 13-year-olds may be ready to stay alone all day, but many of them will tell you it’s scary being home without any adults in the house.  They’re aware of the danger of opening the door to strangers, and it’s easy to imagine those strangers lurking outside in the bushes, just waiting for the parent’s car to drive away.

Others may relish the freedom but be susceptible to temptation, especially when joined by a friend for the day, or when invited to join in shenanigans via text or Facebook.

And there are those who aren’t ready for the independence, who wouldn’t know what to do if the power went out or the stove caught fire.

If you have no other option than to leave your under-15-year-old home, try not to make it for 40 or 50 hours per week.  Look for alternatives, such as spending one or two days a week with a relative or a friend, or enrolling in a day camp of some sort.  At this age, there are many options for sports, drama, music, or religious camps in different price ranges.  There might even be volunteer opportunities at a nearby YMCA or Boys’/Girls’ Club.

Be clear about expectations when you’re not home, and don’t hesitate to take a power cord (to a video game system or computer modem), a cell phone, or a laptop/iPad/iPod Touch to work with you if you have to.  Consider setting parental controls to minimize usage time, or purchasing software that lets you see in real time what’s on your home computer, even from a remote location.

Summer break should be a time to relax, but just like any vacation, it takes some work to make it that way.