If you’re the parent of one or more middle-schoolers, you know the drill. They hate you. They love you. Their friends are the best ever. They hate their friends. They never want to go to school again. They can’t live without school. Most of all, they can’t stand to be seen with you! Well…most of the time, anyway. So, if you’re planning a family vacation, how do you deal with the crazy personality of your tween?
Every year, plenty of parents drag their middle schoolers on vaction, including to Europe, some of them kicking and screaming. But if you know how just where to go, how to organize your itinerary, and when to give in a little, your family can have a pleasant trip that’s not just one big screaming match. You’ll just need to follow some helpful tips.
Choosing a Suitable Destination
When looking for a place to spend their vacation money, most families try to consider a destination that will be enjoyed by the entire family, but problems sometimes arise when parents still look at their tweens as kids rather than burgeoning adults. The likes and dislikes of 11-13 year-olds are largely different from those of a 7-9 year-old but not quite equivalent with older teens, so parents should plan accordingly when looking for a good vacation spot in Europe. Most of all, you should let them have a little input.
If you don’t have a specific location that you simply must include on your itinerary, start the discussion by giving your tween (and your other children, if you have them) a list of the possible places you might like to visit. Then send them to their computer. These days, most tweens spend hours a day on their computer or tablet and know how to do in-depth research. Let them take a look at each destination you’re considering to ascertain what there is to see and do. Give them specific instructions such as “Find 3 attractions you’d like to visit” or “Look for 2 outdoor activities you’d like to do.” We can bet you that your kid will come back with way more than 2 or 3.
But do think about the choices you give them. Most tweens will love London, for example, but may not be so fond of Brussels or Dubrovnik, so save those trips for you and your significant other. Kids tend to love Italy in general because it has a little of everything, from beaches and volcanoes to ancient ruins and cool attractions like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Paris is pretty cool, too, especially for tween girls who enjoy the fashion scene. That age group seems to like Barcelona as well, especially the funky Gaudi architecture there.
Another fun idea? Go someplace where there are lots of castles, like France’s Loire Valley, parts of Germany, and perhaps Ireland. These are especially enticing to kids who like Harry Potter and perhaps virtual games like Dungeons and Dragons and all of the similar games that it has spawned.
Making an Itinerary
Once you’ve chosen your destination, chances are that your tween might start off the vacation discussion by saying: “No old buildings and no museums!” Of course, ancient buildings and great museums are what Europe is all about and there’s no doubt that you – the adult – will want to see some of those museums, cathedrals, monuments, and other landmarks during your family vacation.
If you’re tween has done his/her homework, he’s probably found some old buildings and museums that might be enticing as well. If so, be sure to add those to the must-see list. Then have a chat with your middle schooler about the things you’d like to see and add those to the schedule as well. But take into consideration that perhaps you don’t have to see the entire Louvre while you’re in Paris, for example. Maybe you can just zero in on a few sections that include an era or medium that excites you.
Be sure to also include “active” pursuits on your list. For example, Copenhagen, Denmark is a wonderful place for bike riding, so if you’re there, plan to rent some two-wheeled vehicles and explore the city. In London, you can go horseback riding in Hyde Park or, in winter, ice skating on some outdoor rinks. In Italy, families that enjoy hiking together can trek to one of Southern Italy’s four volcanoes – Mount Vesuvius, Stromboli, Vulcano, and Mount Etna. You get the picture. Mix it up so that your vacation isn’t all standing in line or standing around looking at old stuff.
Look for Family-Friendly Accommodations
Where you stay when you vacation in Europe with your tween can make all the difference. Even if that country inn or B&B looks enticing to you – you know, the one without phones and TVs – opt for the chain hotel that has a pool and game room. You’d be surprised at how agreeable your tween can become once you give him a roll of quarters and send him off to play pinball or when you let her splash around for an hour while you read your book by the pool.