Dr. Wes: At 16 I came to the sudden realization that I didn't really want to go camping with my parents in Colorado.
Strange. Looking back now, I'd like nothing better.
They did the packing and loading. All I had to do was ride 300 miles from my 106-degree western Kansas homestead and into the beautiful Rockies, where the morning temperature required a jacket and the afternoon shot up to 78 after the daily rain shower. Instead, I petitioned my parents to stay home and swelter away with my freedom. So it is with many teens. No matter what the destination, they seem to want to be somewhere else. So what's a family to do?
One might leave teens at home as my parents did. For those considering this option, I suggest the DVD of Tom Cruise (before he went a little askew) in "Risky Business." Here, Tom's folks leave him home alone. Within a few minutes, he's dancing in his underwear, then he dumps dad's Porsche in the lake. Later he hooks up with a young prostitute and opens a successful brothel in his home by tapping the trust funds of his wealthy, but sexually frustrated schoolmates. Pretty fun stuff back in 1983.
The tag line of the movie ("Sometimes you just have to say, 'What the :'") pretty much underscores why leaving the kids in charge of the house wasn't a good idea for my family - and it isn't for yours. Many Lawrence parents have learned this lesson the hard way. The resulting parties are legendary and would themselves make a good flick.
The next alternative is to leave the kid(s) with friends or family. This can be relatively cool as it affords some of the luxury of being alone without all the responsibility. The big issue here is whether the teen will have access to the family home. If they do, "Risky Business" may still ensue. One must also consider how solid the host family is, and anyone agreeing to be a host should consider the liabilities before signing on. Some try a half-and-half approach, having adults look in on their teen rather than living there for a week. This typically doesn't afford enough supervision to make it worth the effort.
Instead, I suggest bringing a best friend or even boy/girlfriend along. I've had a number of clients try this and find success. It costs more, but it increases the enjoyment, helps you get to know the friend and reduces the boredom factor. It also will increase the drama, but it's worth it in the end. Interestingly, such friends are usually thrilled to go on trips with families OTHER than their own. In a perfect scenario, the friend's family might reciprocate.
One last bit of sentimental advice for kids wanting to opt out of a family vacation: At age 25, my family, my new wife and I went back to Colorado for the first time since I was 15. It was a whole new experience. At 25, our folks become a great deal more interesting and wise than they were in our teen years. That fall, my dad was diagnosed with leukemia, making this an important vacation I am thankful we took. But as I pondered those late teen years and the many chances missed, I realized that all the fun I had living on my own one week out of the year didn't count for much. Take your chances for family time while you've got them. They'll be gone sooner than you think.
Marissa: Family vacations. When you're little, they are wonderful fun-filled times. Then, as the teenage years begin, you're suddenly way too cool to participate. Vacations are often cause for argument. It's hard to know what a fair compromise is when the parents want some good old-fashioned family fun and the teen wants an opportunity for independence.
Unfortunately, the company of their parents is no longer enough to keep children entertained when they reach the teenage years. Wes' suggestion of allowing your child to bring along a friend or boy/girl friend is a wonderful compromise. It's a good idea to agree on a list of people from which to choose, though, to make sure that it's someone with whom parents and teens will enjoy sharing a vacation.
However, depending on the level of maturity your teen has shown, I don't think letting them stay home alone guarantees a wild party. I have known plenty of people who managed to handle the situation responsibly. The idea of letting them stay with a friend or family member is a good one, too, if you do not feel comfortable with your teen being home alone.
There is, of course, one more option for teens: Go, even without a friend. Give in every once in a while and let go of your "coolness" for a weekend. Even though, at the time, it might seem completely lame to spend time with your parents instead of your friends, looking back, you will be glad that you spent the time with your family. Vacations can be a great experience. If you stay home every time, you will regret what you missed out on. Chances are, whatever you do instead won't be as worthwhile. This goes double if you're a senior. With this being the last summer before college, try and spend as much time as possible with your family.
Next week: A teenager asks about her friendships drifting apart when everyone starts dating.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Marissa Ballard is a Lawrence High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.