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Happy teens make for happier times
by Annie Fox, M.Ed.
Earlier this summer my 25-year-old daughter and I went on a two-week “Let’s explore Poland by train” adventure.
With only our backpacks and no hotel reservations, we flew from London to Warsaw, then traveled by rail to Gdansk,
Turon, Poznan, Wroclaw, and finally to Krakow. What an incredible opportunity to learn about the Polish people and
their fascinating history and culture. It was also a wonderful chance for the two of us to rediscover what we’ve
always enjoyed about being together. And what fun to be strangers in a strange land, relying on our senses of wonder,
of humor and our abilities to problem-solve!
your teen from his/her social circle for too long and their world screeches to a standstill and they'll make
you pay for how isolated and miserable they’re feeling!
Since my return, I’ve thought a lot about what worked and didn’t work during other family vacations
my husband and I have taken with our daughter and son. I share these tips in the hope that any family vacation you
take this summer will produce good times together and lots of happy memories.
View of Wroclaw, Poland from the tower of Cathedral of John the Baptist (c. 13th century) –
click for larger image
Here's what's worked for us:
- Get input from your teens about your vacation destination — Obviously if you’re
expected at a family reunion, then that’s where you’re going. But if you haven’t finalized your
plans, let the kids in on the discussion. They might not get the same voting power as the adults, but if they feel
respected and listened to then you’ll get teens with a positive attitude. That’s worth all the souvenirs
in the world!
- Be realistic about how long you’ll be gone – If you’ve got a social teen,
2 weeks away may be torturous. Remember: A teen’s world doesn’t revolve around her friends
it revolves because of her friends. Remove her from her social circle for too long and her world screeches
to a standstill and she’ll make you pay for how isolated and miserable she’s feeling!
- Encourage each family member to decide what they’d like to do for part
of each day — This
practice works great as long as you’ve got this ground rule in place: If anyone mopes around during someone
else’s chosen activity, then the party pooper loses his/her right to choose an activity that day. Even when
our son was 5, he was cooperative for just about anything knowing that in a few hours, he’d have his chance.
He also realized that being an unwilling participant took away from everyone’s fun, including his. If a 5
year old can make that connection, your teen certainly can!
- Maintain schedules — Schedules create a rhythm for the day and that reduces some
of the inevitable stress of being away from home. Your teens may not admit this, but they feel security (and comfort)
knowing that at 7 PM the family sits down to dinner. Without getting rigid about it, a sleep schedule’s important
too. Sure you’re on vacation, but if teens don’t go to sleep at a reasonable hour then they’re
likely to sleep past noon (or later) and that’s probably going to:
- irritate everyone else who wants to get an early start
- compel you to drag your Sleeping Prince out of bed forcing everyone else to put up with a foul-tempered,
- Get novels on tape or CD for road trips — If the books are well
chosen (mysteries are great) then getting back in the car for 8 more hours is actually something everyone looks
forward to (got to find out what happens next in the story!).
- Factor in jet lag — Traveling internationally or just across the country? Jet lag
can really knock you off balance for a day or more. At its worst, jet lag can make you feel like you’ve
been flattened by a steamroller then injected with a flu virus. Studies show that people with strong internal
clocks (circadian rhythms) are most susceptible to jet lag. Got any of those in your family? Go easy with activities
for the first day or so if necessary. To prevent jet lag, here are some tips: drink water in flight, avoid alcohol
and caffeine, and walk around the cabin periodically. There are also some homeopathic remedies available in health
food stores that some people swear by. One we’ve had great success with is appropriately called “No
Jet-Lag” and is available at many health food stores, or can be ordered online.
- Explore your new environment as a family, but pace yourself — Feel compelled to
see every single thing listed in the guidebook? If it feels like you’re rushing around then you probably
are. So temper your expectations and slow down, you may see less but you’ll also stress less and enjoy
- Give yourself permission to abandon some of your attitudes — Vacations
take you out of the norm, so they’re great times for self-exploration. If you choose not to limit yourself
by your normally strong opinions (“I don’t like boats.” “I never eat anything with coconut
in it.”), you can become a “freer” you, at least for a while. And who knows? It might help you
to become more openhearted, open-minded on a permanent basis.
- Relax — You’re on vacation. Consciously choose to leave stress-related worries at
home (they’ll be fine without you). Give your mind as well as your body a chance to regain equilibrium. When
you’re not stressing you give your best side to your spouse and your kids. In my book, that’s the best
part of any family vacation.
Whether you and your family have a far away journey in store, or some day-trips close to home, enjoy your time together,
be safe, and happy travels!
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