By Andrew Eames
As children approach and enter their teens, they get harder to please. Essentially conservative creatures, slow to try anything new (unless it’s suggested by their friends, the Internet or their magazines), they’ve made up their minds about what they like from their short lives so far – and they know instinctively that what their parents like is not cool. They want to push away from the family unit, to do their own thing, to create their own identity – even though they are still completely economically dependent. Grrr.
It’s an awkward, frustrating time for everyone, and it does make finding a mutually satisfactory holiday very tricky. But it’s worth persisting, because holidays, away from all the distractions and tensions of home life, can be the only time in the year when family togetherness reasserts itself and old lines of communication are re-opened. Suddenly you could find your children being nice to each other – and to you.
So holidaying with teenagers needs careful forethought. Sure-fire successes of the past are in danger of being labelled ‘boring’, but equally there’s no point in overturning all one’s normal holiday-making criteria on the whims of teenage children, who can often wish passionately for something only to find it isn’t actually what they wanted when they get there. (Even so, it’ll still be your fault you went.)
- If you can, select a destination that has a bit of glamour to it. Now you have teenagers, your family holidays are likely to be numbered, so make them as memorable (for them and you) as your budget allows.
- Get them to share an adventure with you. Doing something more enterprising than usual, in a more exotic culture than before, will bond you. This adventure can either be achieve as independent travellers or through a tour operator such as the Adventure Company or Explore Worldwide, who organise specific family adventures with special departures for families with teenagers.
- Consider an activity-based resort. Tour operators such as Sunsail, Neilson, Club Med and Mark Warner, who specialize in water-based (or snow-based) activities, are very popular with teenagers.
- Avoid booking accommodation that has Internet with Facebook or MSN-type communications on tap – it’s an unnecessary distraction. Half the time your children will be talking to their chums back home, and home gossip could affect their emotional state.
- The presence of others kids of the same age-group is an important endorsement of any destination. If you’re not going to a resort or on an organized group adventure, consider allowing your children to take friends. The latter are much more likely to be co-operative when they’re with you rather than their own parents, and this attitude will spread to your kids.
- South-east Asia is pretty cool. The likes of Thailand and Malaysia combine soft adventure with great food, shopping and places to stay. The Thai islands – Koh Samui and Phuket – have good nightlife, or you can take kids trekking in the north of Thailand.
- The United States is always going to go down well, principally because kids have seen it all on TV. New York, San Francisco, Miami – I guarantee they’ll love the idea.
- Villas with pools in the South of France or on Mediterranean islands are great if your budget can stretch to it – lazing by your own pool can lead to good inter-family communication.
- The islands of Croatia, particularly Hvar and Korcula, attract a glamorous young crowd, and there are plenty of excursions – boat-trips to beaches and smaller islands, for instance – that teenagers could potentially undertake on their own.
- It may be time to tackle Africa – try a safari, if you can afford it, in Tanzania or Zambia, or a fly-drive to South Africa, or even a safari/beach holiday in Kenya. For most of these destinations you’ll need anti-malarial precautions, but your kids are now at the age where this shouldn’t be a problem.
- If you are devotees of campsite holidays (and the bigger sites can still be good for teens), consider a location with something extra: France’s surfing-mad Atlantic shore down by Biarritz in Aquitaine, for example, or on one of the fashionable Italian Lakes.
- Compromise when it comes to the day-to-day planning, offering your kids the incentive of a couple of things they really want to do – something with bragging rights such as jet-skiing or water-skiing.
- Don’t plan anything with early starts – it’s their holiday too.
- If there’s stuff you think everyone will enjoy as a family, go for it, and don’t allow debate. But allow them to choose something for another day. Equally, if there’s something you want to do but they will not, don’t drag them out to do it the bad vibes could go on for days.
- Don’t rely on kids’ clubs, unless there’s a dedicated club for teenagers. The vast majority of kids’ club attendees will be pre-teens and younger, and there’s nothing teenagers like less than hanging around with pesky kids.
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