Going Farther, Growing Closer: Building Teen-Parent Relationships Through Travel

Many parents might be reluctant to embark on a trip with their teenager, but the negative depictions of parent/teen travel experiences are often over exaggerated. The stereotype of a reluctant, brooding teen with angsty music blaring through their headphones in the backseat of a car is far from reality. In fact, traveling is a great way to teach valuable life lessons, encourage independence, and reconnect with your teenager!

The world is full of incredible travel destinations, but a taking a trip to Europe is an awesome way to introduce your teenager to the wonders of travel and, at the same time, build a meaningful relationship with them. In this article, I explain a handful of ways parents can bond with their teens while traveling across Europe. I hope you find them valuable and use them to embark on an amazing, transformative journey with your teen!

Building Trust and Granting Independence

Independence and autonomy are two of the most important things to any teenager. As a parent, you want to grant your teen enough space to feel free while also protecting them from overly-harmful decisions. Taking your teen to Europe is a great way to do this. Letting them travel abroad shows that you trust them with a large amount of responsibility, but staying close allows you to keep an eye on them in their new environment.

For example, you might consider letting your teen take the reigns on certain aspects of your trip. Flying from England to France, taking a train south to Spain, sailing across the Mediterranean to Italy, and driving north to Switzerland is a totally achievable itinerary. But it means you and your teenager have to plan ahead of time, buy tickets, book hotels and hostels, and keep track of all your tickets and receipts. Not only will this teach your teen valuable organizational and budgeting skills, but it will demonstrate your trust in them. Your teen will be grateful and enthusiastic for this opportunity, and your decision will no doubt raise you up in the eyes of your teen and benefit the overall state of your relationship.

Besides, letting your teen plan your trip guarantees they won’t feel like they’re being “forced” to do anything! They’re much more likely to be excited about a trip they’ve planned, which will break down some of their barriers and make it easier for you two to connect.

Imparting Interests

Have you ever tried to share something you love with your teen, but to no avail? To get them really excited about something you’re passionate about only to be met with an eye roll? Maybe your teenager won’t listen to your favorite Beatles record, or perhaps they absolutely refuse to heed the importance of World War II history. Traveling in Europe might just be what you need to help your teen see things your way.

Teenagers have an incredible capacity for passion. Many times their energy is directed into “fun” things like sports, video games, and time with friends. There’s nothing wrong with this, but parents might feel their teen is neglecting other enriching interests and activities. The fact is, your teen might have other interests just waiting to be discovered. Europe is chockfull of important historical sites, art museums, nature, and pop culture landmarks that your teen may not have given thought to. Perhaps taking your teen to the beaches of Normandy will spark a new respect for history; visiting parliament could begin an interest in foreign policy; Renaissance museums in Italy may turn your teen on to the fine arts; a great French pastry might even mold a new family chef; and a walk across Abbey Road might just open them up to your favorite Beatles tracks! Europe is a global center for arts and culture, and opportunities abound for you to share your interests and make them relevant in your teen’s life.

The same is true vice-versa. Maybe you don’t “get” your teenager’s obsession with Premier League soccer, Harry Potter, or Formula 1. But, your mind might change if you experience these things firsthand. Be sure to plan activities that are centered on your teen’s interests as well as your own. This way, both of you will gain more insight into each other’s passions and hobbies. Who knows, you may even find some common ground!

Sharing Positive Experiences

There’s almost nothing that builds a relationship as quickly and strongly as shared, happy memories. Think of your own life; who are your childhood role models? Your best friends? They’re people you’ve spent time with. People you’ve laughed with and had unforgettable experiences with. A trip to Europe gives you the opportunity to recreate this kind of relationship with your teen.

Due to the natural process of human brain development, our teenage years are years of heightened emotions, and there’s a chance your child will remember their time as a teenager more vividly than any other period in their life. As a parent, you want at least some of these memories to be experiences the two of you shared together. This will almost certainly strengthen the relationship you have with your teen, and going abroad together creates a multitude of opportunities for shared experience. Sports matches, museum visits, new foods, and funny stories abound when traveling in Europe. Why not add some to you and your teen’s relationship?

Don’t fret over your trip going perfectly, though. There’s just as much a chance of bonding through adversity and mischance as there is through smooth sailing. Missed flights, bad restaurants, rained-out sport matches, and impromptu solutions often breed amazing stories. What starts off as awkward or upsetting might actually turn into your greatest bonding experience, something for you and your teen to laugh about years afterward.

The Power of Compromise

When planning your trip, there will almost certainly be things you want to do that your teen doesn’t. This is an excellent opportunity to practice compromise with your teen. If your teenager wants to visit Platform 9 ¾ in London instead of the Tate Modern, cut a deal. Maybe later you eat at a fancy restaurant of your choice instead of going back to Nando’s. Or, instead of seeing a Premier League match, you buy tickets for a musical. Traveling is a great way to teach conflict resolution and reinforce the idea that choices have consequences, as well as connect you and your teen by sharing each other’s interests.

This goes hand in hand with my first point about imparting your teen with trust and independence. One of the things teen’s want most is to be seen as fellow adults. Being realistic with your teen about what is and isn’t possible and offering them choices will show that you expect them to be mature and composed throughout the trip. It might sound like a breeding ground for conflict, but your teen will likely appreciate the respect and confidence you’re showing in them.

Happy trails!

Plane tickets, hotel rooms, and restaurant bills are all necessary costs of travel, but none of them match the value of a revamped relationship with your teen. The connection you and your teenager can build through a good trip is truly priceless. So make the call! Ask your teen where they want to go, and see if you can go about making it happen. Not only will it serve as an amazing vacation, but it could just be a life-altering trip that you and your teen will both look back on fondly. Safe travels, and cheers!

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