Teen-agers need a say in vacation planning Harmony: If your trip doesn't include teen-friendly activities, you will no doubt hear about it from those bored, grouchy folks in the back seat.

Taking the Kids

August 25, 1996|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

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," explains Mike Pretekin, a ninth-grader from Englewood, Colo.

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

"Go where there are other kids," chimes in 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."

"Teen-agers want to see who they are in the world, as opposed to who their parents are. The more chances they have to do that, the happier they'll be," explains 18-year-old Josh Hess, who is from New Orleans and is heading to New York University this fall. "Kids need their private time just like adults."

On vacation and frustrated

Everyone knows teen-agers can be even more frustrating travel companions than toddlers, 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 that Mom and Dad are responsible for all this misery.

Mom and Dad, of course, aren't thrilled either, because they are footing the bill. Instead of relaxing, they're getting more aggravated by the minute -- which they could have done at home.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are now nearly 22.5 million adolescents in this country aged 13-18.

Teens between the ages of 14 and 16 are convinced that their parents are complete dolts, according to Suzanne Boulter, a New Hampshire pediatrician who serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Adolescence. "It's humiliating just to be in the car with parents then."

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

Club Med has a better idea for those who can afford it: a Teen Club at Club Med Huatulco on Mexico's Pacific Coast. It offers a choice of teen-friendly activities such as snorkeling, beach volleyball and souvenir shopping, with no schedules or parents.

"We approach this like we're all a bunch of friends hanging out on the beach," explains Jane Miller, Club Med's director of children's programs.

The concept has been so successful that the resort is drawing close to 200 teens a week this summer and has just announced that the Teen Club will operate year-round. Call (800) CLUB-MED.

Club Med also has a Teen Club at Copper Mountain, Colo., this winter. Other ski resorts around the country are catering to this market, tempting teens with programs such as mountain adventures, ski racing, honing snowboarding skills and evening pizza parties.

For traveling parents, the good news is that, as baby boomers' children age, the travel industry is working harder to attract this group's business. "Certainly there's more emphasis on teens now," acknowledges a spokesman for Vail Associates.

The bad news: Even the best-intentioned efforts don't always work. Parents who have purposely chosen cruises say their teens spend the day lounging at the pool or playing basketball, rather than in organized activities with a room full of strangers. Hyatt Hotels dropped its teen program entirely. "It just didn't work well for us," explained Camp Hyatt director Anne Lane.

Can parents and teens find a formula that will yield a happy family vacation? Recently, I put that question to several adolescent experts around the country. I also asked a group of boys spending their summer away from parents at Camp Nebagamon in Wisconsin, where I had been invited to help put out a camp newspaper.

The consensus: Family trips aren't awful if they don't last too long and parents follow some rules:

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

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

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

For the kids, it's much more important to be with their peers than to see wonderful sights.

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

Allow time for ample sleep every day and make sure there is plenty of food 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.

Please send your stories to Taking the Kids, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053 or e-mail them to me at eogintol.com. I'll use some in coming columns.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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