Dear Mr. Dad: Every summer our family takes a two-week trip to a national park in the Rockies. We camp, we hike, we fish, we explore. Until recently, it’s been the high point of the year for everyone. Now my oldest is fifteen, and at the mere suggestion of this year’s trip, she yelled, “No way am I going on that lame trip again!” Lame? She used to love these vacations! What are we supposed to do?
A: Ouch! Hurts, doesn’t it? Just like the whole package of teen rebellion, it’s hard to take these angry rejections well. But it’s important to put them into the context of a larger change in your relationship.
Adolescence is a period during when teens naturally begins to pull away from their parents, to define themselves as their own people, to stop being so embarrassingly dependent on you. So the good news is that your daughter is developmentally right on target, doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing at her age. Remembering that can help take some of the sting out of such moments. Not all of it, but a bit.
If you’ve done the same trip every year, your daughter will associates it with her childhood—the very thing she’s trying so hard to leave behind. Add in the fact that teens often develop tight peer groups from which they hate to separate and the family trip starts looking a lot like two interminable weeks of medieval torture.
The place to start is to find ways to make the upcoming trip more appealing for a teenager. There may be activities or attractions in the area that were of no interest when you had little ones but now may be just the thing to pique your daughter’s interest. You can do some research and present her with a list of options or, if you think she’ll go for it, have her get on line and come up with a few ideas of her own.
Another alternative is to consider taking an entirely different trip, one she won’t associate with her childhood. Here, it’s critical to involve your teen in selecting the destination. But be sure to set some reasonable limits in advance. Otherwise you’ll have to find a diplomatic way to veto the excited suggestion that the family go skydiving naked in Peru—and you’ll have to deal with the inevitable angry response (“Then why did you even ask? I hate you!”). So set a radius (“somewhere within a two-day drive”) and/or a budget, and let her propose several ideas. Do your best to find a compromise that makes her feel involved and respected.
You might also think about asking her to bring a friend along (what fun—two teenagers). Once you get there, give them as much freedom as they can reasonably handle. And yes, that may mean that they’ll spend a lot of time texting their friends while everyone else enjoys the great outdoors.
Finally, you can always leave her at home. The family vacation is a treasured tradition—so why not keep it that way for everyone? Arrange safe supervision with the family of a friend or neighbor and enjoy your vacation without having to deal with the surly attitude of someone who’s rather be anywhere else. Done right, this option can show a level of trust and respect that your teen will appreciate.
We often want to keep things the way “they’ve always been.” But allowing yourself as a parent to adapt to the natural changes that adolescence brings can make a huge difference in preserving good family dynamics.