Dear Dr. Wes and Miranda: Please publish this as quickly as you can because I have to make a decision. My daughter and her two girlfriends want to take a senior road trip before college starts in the fall. I didn’t like the idea when they brought it up in March but thought it was going to be a moot point due to cost. Then gas prices went down, so now it’s on again.
I don’t think it’s safe for a carload of teen girls to be on the highways without an adult. My daughter says, “We have a Garmin, Mom, we’ll be fine.”
Miranda: A senior trip can be a right of passage for a lot of teens beginning their journey into adulthood. This is, of course, a worry for most parents, and handling it can be sticky. As a parent, you want to keep your daughter safe, without insulting her newfound independence. It can be a tough balancing act, but the safety of your teen should always be your first priority.
With that in mind, saying “no” flat-out probably isn’t the best option.
This is actually a great opportunity to work with your daughter to reach a compromise. Suggest that a group of parents travel in another car behind or along the same path in case something bad happens. The other option is to have them plan to stay with trustworthy relatives or friends along their route.
You can also break down the actual costs and responsibilities of going on a road trip. Have her map out the entire route and do the math on the entire amount of gas she and her friends will have to pay for. Be sure she knows how to change a tire and check her oil. Those kinds of car maintenance issues are things your daughter and her friends should know before they hit the road.
There are ways to keep your daughter safe without being the parent that puts a damper on her plans. Be upfront with her and work to create a compromise that is fair, fun and safe.
Dr. Wes: The fundamental dilemma of parenting is how much to push your child and how much to hold her.
This begins in the front yard when she falls in the grass and begins to cry. Do you jump out of your seat and run to her side, desperately leaping over hedges and assorted yard toys? Or do you walk slowly, calmly reaching down to tell her, “It’s OK, things like this happen. We get by”?
Frequent readers know that we sound the alarm bell in Double Take when we see dangers to teens. But this just isn’t one of those times. Your daughter is 18. She’s off to college in the fall, where she’ll encounter far more potential danger lurking about — most of it self-inflicted — than anything she could find along Route 66.
I’m not sure my folks were too keen on me taking off for Washington, D.C., with my friend an hour after graduation, but they went along with it because that was the next natural step in my journey away from home. Your daughter is old enough to do this. In fact, she’s also old enough to join the Marines. You can’t follow her to college or into combat, and you can’t trail along on her road trip.
I do agree with Miranda that there should be some agreement on where she and her friends are going, and an understanding that if they get into trouble in Miami or Bangor, you won’t be rushing out to solve all their problems. That’s what being an adult is all about: fixing your mistakes.
While the new young adults should pay for their own trip, offer some financial incentives if they’ll follow the agreement on map, location, checking in, etc. It’s easy to help them pay bills along the way if they’re following the plan. You just phone in the card. This gives you a measure of security and them, freedom.
Finally, make sure the young people know that they will have a hard time getting a decent motel room. Motels have gotten savvy about young adult travelers, and they don’t like the damage they bring, so many will only rent to the over-21 crowd. There are lots of options to get around this, including tent camping if your daughter is the rugged type. And Miranda’s idea of staying with a friend is another cost-saving measure that also provides some connection.
The days of helicoptering are over. Give your daughter the reins, offer some support, incentive and oversight, and be sure she has a good digital camera to capture the memories. I still like looking back at those old D.C. photos from 1981. I was thinner then.