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Taking the Kids

Teens Are People Too--Even on Family Trips

September 01, 1996|EILEEN OGINTZ

Teens to parents: Skip the museums. Ditto for isolated mountain cabins. Most important, keep that vacation itinerary loose.

"We don't want to be tugged around all day from activity to activity. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, not educational," explained Mike Pretekin, a ninth-grader from Englewood, Colo.

"Give the kids a little freedom," said Paul Lux, a 13-year-old from St. Louis.

"Go somewhere where there are other kids," said Joey Greenbaum, a seventh-grader from suburban Chicago. "Then you won't have to worry about being with your parents and getting yelled at all the time."

Everyone knows teenagers can be frustrating travel companions, impossible to please and complaining from the time they sling their duffel in the trunk until the trip is over. They're alternately bored, unhappy or hungry, making no secret of the fact that Mom and Dad are responsible for all of this misery.

Mom and Dad aren't thrilled because instead of relaxing, they're getting more aggravated by the minute. "My advice is to skip adolescence and go straight from age 11 to 18," jokes Chicago child psychologist Sharon Berry.

Club Med has a better idea for those who can afford it: a bona fide Teen Club at Club Med Huatulco on Mexico's Pacific Coast that promises no schedules (just a choice of teen-friendly activities such as snorkeling, beach volleyball and souvenir shopping) and no parents in the vicinity.

"We approach this like we're all a bunch of friends hanging out on the beach," said Jane Miller, who is Club Med's director of children's programs and developed this one. The concept has been so successful that the resort has attracted as many as 200 teens a week this summer and has just announced that the Teen Club will operate year-round. (For details call [800] CLUB-MED.)

Club Med also is offering a Teen Club at Copper Mountain in Colorado this winter, and other ski resorts around the country are creating programs for this market too, offering special programs designed to draw teens to mountain activities such as ski racing or snow boarding or evening pizza parties.

The good news for traveling parents: As the children of Baby Boomers grow up--the U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are now nearly 22.5 million adolescents in this country between the ages of 13 and 18--the travel industry knows the market is potentially enormous. So it is working to create special programs that target teens.

The bad news: Even best efforts don't always work. Parents who have purposely chosen cruises say their teens spend the day lounging by the pool or playing basketball, not in organized activities that require that they face a room full of strangers. Hyatt Hotels has dropped its teen program entirely, for lack of interest. "It just didn't work well for us," said Camp Hyatt Director Anne Lane.

Can parents and teens find a formula that will equal a happy family experience?

Recently, I put that question to several experts in adolescents around the country and a group of teens spending their summer away from parents at Camp Nebagamon for boys in Wisconsin, where I was helping to publish a camp newspaper. The consensus: Family trips aren't too awful as long as they don't last too long and parents follow a few simple guidelines:

Don't make any plans without getting the teens' take on the idea.

"Stop and think what it looks like from the teenager's perspective," urges UCLA child and adolescent psychologist Jill Waterman, who regularly fields parental and teen vacation complaints. "Let the kids generate their own options and listen to what they have to say."

Forgo sightseeing and plan plenty of outdoor adventures, including skiing, snow boarding, rafting and fishing.

For kids, it's much more important to be with peers than to see wonderful sights, said Dr. Suzanne Boulter, a New Hampshire pediatrician who serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescence.

Camping is a good, inexpensive option, for example, because there are informal opportunities for teens to meet other kids along the hiking trail, in the campground or swimming in a lake.

Allow time to sleep in every day and make sure there is plenty of food available that teens like. Give up the idea that the trip will be a concentrated family experience. Go somewhere with other kids or bring a friend along.

The worst possible time to travel with teens: between the ages of 14 and 16, when they are convinced their parents are stupid and boring, Boulter said. "It's humiliating just to be in the car with parents then."

"If you can make arrangements for them, let them stay home," Boulter said. "There's more of a chance they'll ruin everybody else's time than have a good time themselves."

Remember, of course, that this is all a temporary state of affairs. By the time they're in college, they'll be begging to go on trips with you . . . as long as you're paying.

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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