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Travels with My Teens: A Cautionary Tale

There are so many ways for parents to ruin a perfectly good family vacation.

Creemees … (thanks, Pixabay)

Summer is heading our way, which means the season for making family travel plans is upon us. Last summer, I spent some time traveling with teens. (You, too, may have participated in such an anthropological experiment. Perhaps we should compare notes.) In my case, the teens in question were my two lads, ages 14 and 16. Because I love them both deeply and did not wish to make them cry, our road trip around the East Coast included plenty of teen-approved activities such as leaping off high rocks into deep pools of cold, clear water and eating at least one maple creemee every day.

But, alas, we all know a family vacation isn’t just about fun. Turns out there are loads of ways for parents to ruin a perfectly good getaway. Here are the particular methods we used to torture our children.

See art! Whether you’ve booked tickets to a special exhibit at a national gallery or you notice a quaint pottery collective on a New England dirt road, be sure to take your time as you admire the work. Ask a lot of questions about the artist’s process, medium and motivation. Teens enjoy hearing their parents engage with strangers, especially docents. Something else teens just love? Talking about art. After two hours in Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation seeing approximately 11,458 works of art, my lads shared fascinating insights. “There’s maybe six things in here I like. Most of these paintings are ugly. Some of them aren’t even finished!”

Take a historical walking tour! Turns out, walking tours are a new form of extreme fitness testing. Although my boys regularly bench press the equivalent of a small elephant and barely break a sweat on the “advanced” setting for Sprint 8, turns out nothing is more grueling and exhausting than a one hour, 1.25-mile stroll along flat city sidewalks following a well-informed guide. (“Who has water? Who drank all the water? I’m not gonna’ make it without water!”). The good news, however, is that our walking tour provided incontrovertible proof that our public school education is right on track. The boys’ constant refrain, accompanied by an eye roll and a heavy sigh: “I already knew that.”

Never miss a teaching moment! To kill time during long car rides, we play two different games: “Geography” (name somewhere in the world that starts with the last letter of the previous place – for example, Denver > Rome > Egypt) and “Three-Thirds of a Ghost” (add one letter at a time to make a word without ending it – for example, c > ca > cat). As wise parents, my husband and I know these games let us sneakily promote spelling and geography skills. Car games also remind me that although my teens both tower over me, they aren’t sophisticated adults yet. To wit:

Dad: Where’s the Nile?

Son one: In Egypt!

Dad: Where’s the Amazon?

Son two: In South America!

Dad: Where’s the Volga?

Sons one and two (in unison): In the vagina!

Hike (or, in an urban environment, just walk)! Nothing beats getting out in nature or exploring a new urban landscape. If you add horse flies, heat and humidity to the equation, your kids will remember this special family vacation forever.

In fact, they may never let you forget it.

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