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Tweens: 10-12 • Teens: 13-17

8 Hacks for Vacationing With a Surly Teenager

See recent posts by Liz Alterman

Family vacations are a time to relax, enjoy each other’s company, and make lasting memories. But if there’s one thing that can grind the fun to a halt faster than bad weather or lost luggage, it’s traveling with a teen. If you have an adolescent in the family who is less than thrilled about your upcoming getaway, you’re probably not alone. Plenty of teens balk at the idea of spending extended quality time together.

What’s a parent to do? While it may sound like a classic easier-said-than-done scenario, Dr. Gail F. Melson, PhD, Professor Emerita at Perdue University, who blogs at Psychology, says try not to take your teen’s lack of enthusiasm and interest personally.

“The first thing that’s very useful to do is to think about what it means to be a teen,” says Melson. “Being a teenager is all about figuring out who you are separate from your family. They’re very peer-oriented. So when it comes to the idea of a family vacation, that creates a fundamental tension. They’re not angry at you. This is a phase of development.”

That said, you probably still want to do everything you can to make the trip as pleasant as possible for the whole family. The following tips can help make your vacation memorable for all the right reasons.

1. Involve Teens in the Planning

Your best bet for turning teens’ frowns upside down is to get them involved in the planning, says Adina Mahalli MSW, a certified mental health consultant and family care specialist at Maple Holistics.

“Have them find attractions that are interesting to them, and make sure to put those ideas on the itinerary,” Mahali recommends. “This way, your teen will have some things to really look forward to, and they won’t feel that they’re being dragged along on the trip.”

Seek out all-inclusive resorts or cruise vacations with amenities such as teens-only lounges, nightclubs, and excursions. This will allow them to safely enjoy their independence when they want it, but reconvene with the family when (if?) they’re ready.

2. Set Expectations Early On

Before leaving, have a family meeting that sets guidelines, especially when it comes to screen time, recommends Elisabeth Stitt of Joyful Parenting Coaching.

“If traveling in the car, is the family going to listen to a group audiobook or is it going to be okay for each family member to have their ear buds in? Phones off at the table? If you have visions of happy family dinner conversations when you never get those at home, talk to the kids about that ahead of time. If you get a lot of pushback, negotiate. Ask for a certain number of nights together with no electronics, and allow the kids to go off and eat on their own some of the time,” she suggests.

Everyone loves to buy a souvenir or two, but who’s going to pay for those? Stitt recommends addressing the topic of spending money and who’s expected to pay for extras before leaving for vacation.

“The more you discuss ahead of time, the fewer arguments you’ll have on the trip,” she says.

3. Divide and Conquer

Though the thought of spending lots of time together may be appealing to parents, it’s typically less than enticing for teens. With that in mind, don’t feel you have to do everything as a unit, Melson advises.

“It might be helpful to say, ‘big brother and dad are going ziplining, while mom and sister are going to the beach,’” she says. “You can all meet up for supper. Taking that pressure off can make the whole vacation better.”

If your teen is responsible enough, let them have some alone time during the trip. You can leave them at the AirBnB or hotel while you and the rest of the family visit a museum or other attraction. Just make sure they know how to reach you if necessary.

4. Bring a Friend or Relative Along

Sometimes it’s not economically feasible, but if possible, allowing your teen to bring a buddy along can make the trip more enjoyable for all.

“That way they don’t feel like they have to constantly be with their parents or kid sister,” says Melson.

Visiting friends and relatives with children in a similar age range can help as well.

5. Pretend You’re Traveling With Someone Else’s Teen

Dr. Talya Miron-Shatz, PhD., CEO of Buddy&Soul, a platform for personal development, and visiting researcher at Cambridge University, shares a solution that helped her deal with her own grouchy teen.

“I imagined she was my partner’s daughter, who joined us on the trip,” she says. “And you cannot snap at a child that isn’t yours, can you?”

6. Build in Some Downtime

While it’s tempting to make the most of every moment while traveling, be mindful of including some time to take it easy. When vacationing with his daughters, John Crossman of Orlando, Florida, keeps the pace in check.

“I tend to push them hard on the first couple of days on vacation and then have a rest day,” he says. “In the middle of the vacation, I schedule one day with nothing going on so they can sleep in and relax.”

7. Manage Your Own Expectations

Parents view vacation as a welcome respite from their hectic day-to-day lives. Because they’ve looked forward to this adventure for months and are often incurring a significant expense, they may inadvertently set unrealistic expectations.

“It’s okay to think small,” says Melson. “Family trips don’t have to be once-in-a-lifetime experiences, which rarely measure up anyway. You’re building incredible expectations as a parent and putting pressure on kids to see and feel everything when they might have been happier at the local pool with friends.”

Consider shortening your stay. Or recognize that your “dream” trip might actually sound like a nightmare to your teen, and adjust your expectations.

8. Ignore Negative Behavior

It’s very easy to allow teens with bad attitudes to “push your buttons,” says Melson. Whether they’re rolling their eyes and swearing or glued to their iPhones, ignoring teens’ rude behavior can be one way to extinguish it because it’s not getting reinforced by garnering additional attention.

Liz Alterman lives in New Jersey with her husband, three sons, and a very spoiled cat. She is a longtime journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and more. Her ideal vacation includes great food, strong coffee, and a stroll through a botanical garden. Follow her on Twitter.

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