A parent submitted the following question: How do parents make decisions on older teens through early 20s who want to go away on vacation with friends or their sweethearts? Is it an age-related matter? Is there a fine line? What should parents consider in their decisions?
The 18-and-Under Crowd
Teens under the age of 18 should not be allowed to vacation without an adult present. There are health and safety issues, and potential legal issues if something goes very wrong.
Unsupervised (and even when supervised), the odds of someone bringing drugs and alcohol are high. Even if you have a very responsible 16-year old, you can’t know what kind of mischief and mayhem others are capable of, and how quickly the ‘mob’ mentality can spread. And if it’s boys and girls together, need I say more?
It reminds me of when my kids learned to drive. They insisted that they were good drivers, and they were. But there was no way of predicting what the other crazy drivers would do. I spent more time with them as they learned the rules of the road, until they were as ready as they could be to go solo.
This is partly a matter of trust, and partly about reasonable caution. Even for normally responsible teens, it’s unfair and unreasonable to expect them to be able to withstand or handle unpredictable people and potentially dangerous situations without an adult present. Those who have no intention of getting into trouble shouldn’t mind an adult in the next room who regularly checks in.
Remember that even when your teen says, “Everyone else’s parents are letting them go,” that is rarely, if ever, the truth. It’s what kids say to get their way. Stand your ground, moms and dads. And if all else fails, default to you being legally responsible for your children until they turn 18.
The Over-18 Crowd
If you send them off to live at college, they are on their own, making choices and decisions of which you are unaware. It’s out of your hands. If, on the other hand, you’re going to enable them to take a vacation with other young adults, you should be setting parameters about the trip and its financing.
Consider the following:
How much will you contribute?
What are you willing to pay for? What will you NOT finance?
What is your young adult’s financial responsibility? (Much of this will help determine where they go, what they do and for how long.)
Will you require them to check in with you upon arrival, departure and times in-between? (I gave my kids an ‘out’ by telling them they could make me the bad guy. If someone made a comment about them calling home, they could say, “That’s my mom. She feels better if I check in, so I do it for her.”)
Review emergency procedures. Who is the go-to person? Who will be the designated driver? Who is the calm one in the midst of chaos?
Confirm ID, insurance cards, and information about medical conditions.
At the very least, expect there to be drinking and possibly drug use. These things have been readily available to them since middle school, or earlier, and they have (almost) all indulged in drinking. This isn’t to say that you should expect the worst; however, it would be naive to believe that nobody’s doing it.
While you need to begin the process of letting go and giving them more freedom, you are also still their parent and guide. Maturity and self-control don’t magically appear when they turn 18. Continue to educate, have high expectations, provide choices, and expect responsible behavior and accountability.
On a personal note… The first time I recognized something had changed in a big way with my parents, I was living at home after college, covering my own expenses and paying them rent. I told my parents where I would be for the weekend… and there were no questions. I was taken aback. Why wouldn’t my parents want to know more? As they later told me, I’d been at college for four years and overseas for one. They had no way of knowing what I was up to, and had to trust that they had taught me all I needed to know. I like to say that my parents grew up when I did.
Fern Weis is a Parent Coach and Family Recovery Life Coach. She works with parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, from the homework wars to addiction recovery, and all points in between. Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive and be successful through life's challenges. FernWeis.com | 201-747-9642