Dr. Wes: I don't know what you do on your vacation - sit on the beach, ride the coasters, sail the seas - but I will now confess one of my main vacation indulgences: I watch families and kids interact. I can feel a general sense of yawning. However, not only is this more entertaining than reality TV, it genuinely informs my professional work. You see, as a psychologist, I typically see families and kids in a very artificial environment - my office. On vacation, I get to see how real people act in real situations. I'm careful not to creep anyone out in the process. Sometimes I even introduce myself and swap stories. So here are some of my observations, both good and bad, from this year's travels:
¢ Families who take their kids' friends on vacation. I observed and visited with a family who took along their 17-year-old son's girlfriend. I liked how the couple interacted not only with each other but with the two younger children and the parents. While they were a bit "off on their own," as you'd expect, they were also part of the family. The coolest thing was how much the family enjoyed having the girlfriend along. There were none of the tensions many families have surrounding their child's dating partners. I didn't ask for any logistics about who paid for what or who slept where, but I was very impressed with the overall concept.
¢ A teenage girl seeking a summer job. Far more exciting than it sounds, this girl was about 14. While her friends were giggling and sharing summer gossip, she was on her cell phone convincing someone to let her volunteer at their horse ranch "just to get some experience." I realize it's impolite to eavesdrop, but teenagers on cell phones, waiting in line for popcorn aren't exactly having private time. I was very impressed with how this girl conveyed herself. She was really selling somebody on the idea that she was a hard worker, loved horses, and would really get the job done. They didn't even need to pay her. And she did this with such confidence that I wanted to get up and offer her a job. I don't have a horse ranch, but she'd be the prefect teenage job coach for many of the kids I see.
¢ Families who mix disparate age groups on vacation activities. I saw plenty of family meltdowns in my travels this year. In fact, I am convinced that Disney World was constructed to test the mettle of otherwise functional families. Time and again, I saw parents trying to overlap what 5-year-olds, 10-year-olds and 15 year-olds want to do, and pleasing NOBODY in the process. The more successful families I saw split up into age or interest groups. Dad took the middle kids, mom took the younger kids and the older teens were on their own with cell phones. These families put less emphasis on teamwork and more on honoring developmental differences.
¢ Families who don't follow the rules. Parents often complain that their children do not follow simple household rules and conventions, and that "they just have no respect!" This summer, I saw far too many parents being disrespectful to people and property. If the sign says "no skateboarding," parents shouldn't enable their children by looking the other way. If you have to wear socks to play on the equipment or be a certain height to ride a ride, parents shouldn't circumvent those rules - regardless of what other people are doing. If kids see that parents follow the rules and expect them to do the same, then they'll be a bit more inclined to do so themselves.
John: Did you know that even a short break from school can reduce your IQ? After a year of laborious schooling, honing your mind may not sound like a recreational experience. Although some students find enrichment through taking summer university classes, education doesn't have to mean returning to the classroom bondage. Most libraries have a summer reading program that rewards you for exploring books. Try checking out your local library, where you probably can earn prizes for exploring books. Historic sites and museums also offer a delicious mixture of entertainment and enlightenment. They also work well as essay topics for scholarships and class reports. Consider visiting colleges this summer, even the ones you don't think you'll go to. The earlier you start thinking about your post-high school plans, the lower your blood-pressure will be when it's time to make a decision.
If you go on a trip, make sure to plan as much as possible ahead of time. This sounds obvious, but time after time families make mistakes due to poor planning. Pack your bags a day or two before you leave. Most likely, you'll remember something else you want to bring before you depart. Speaking of which, the most commonly forgotten items are swimsuits, toiletries, camera, shoes and chargers for computers and cell phones. It's tough to know exactly what you will do every day on vacation, but try to have a rough idea so you don't waste time on the road.
Finally, make a point to understand your destination before you arrive. If you can, get in touch with a local to learn about the best hotels, restaurant specials, etc. The best spots for adventure aren't necessarily the best advertised. As Dr. Wes said, respect local law and custom. Most Lawrencians don't appreciate outsiders who trash on Mass. Street, so show the same respect you expect. Our town's image depends on you.
Next week: What not to do on the Internet.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. John Murray is a Free State 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.