Teen In Tow: A parent’s survival guide
If a temperamental teen blights your caravanning life, follow our guide to achieve touring harmony.
By Lydia Bailey
Caravan holidays are perfect for families; we all know that. A week or two in your van with a couple of little ones on board may be hard work, but it will always be fun.
You will spend your days safe in the knowledge that by 8 pm, those happy little campers will be tucked up in bed full of fresh air, and you can sit peacefully together, watch the sun set behind a bottle of Rioja and savour the moment.
Fast forward a few years, however, a glowering teenager who is still wide awake and glued to a tablet long after the sun has set and long after you yourselves should have and would have, been asleep obscures that moment.
Oh yes, sharing a confined space with a reluctant, monosyllabic 15-year old is a whole different ball game altogether and if the site bans ballgames, you could be off to a rocky start.
Parenting skills re-kindled
For a start, you will suddenly re-discover all of those parenting skills you thought were gone forever. A full-volume, floor-prone tantrum in the supermarket when your child was two will have finely tuned your emergency distraction/bribery/cajoling techniques.
Your skills will suddenly flood back when you are in the unfortunate position of having to explain to your youth that there is not only a ballgame ban but also a bikes ban on this particular site and sorry, there's no WiFi.
Believe me. I've been there.
Fortunately, however, you can rest safely in the knowledge that your ‘happy little camper' is still in there somewhere, it may just take a little bit more work to encourage him to come out and play.
Don't sell your caravan!
More encouraging still, as time goes by, you will find that rather than go with your initial reaction to having to sell the caravan and maybe even abandon holidays altogether for a decade or two, there are some definite advantages to having a teenager in tow.
Firstly, unlike very young children, they can be relied upon to carry out certain tasks rather well, possibly even better, than the adult who usually undertakes them (this can bring its problems with daddy, but I'll concentrate on the positive for the moment).
They are also quieter than toddlers, and not always because they are in a mood. You don't have to escort them to the facilities and if you have a particularly responsible one you can even leave them alone in the van while you go off and have a peaceful outing on your own.
You may need to work up to this.
Like parenting as a whole, there's a lot of 'give and take'. What you lose on your peaceful evenings watching the sun set you will gain with full mornings to yourselves waiting for said teen even to get up.
Strange I know but we have tried and tested this with a range of teens. A bored teenager is a grumpy one and although they will say they find most things ‘bor-ring' they seem to be surprisingly amenable to having set tasks which they know are theirs and theirs alone.
Of course, you can't be silly about it. Filling up the aqua roll is acceptable, even good, emptying the waste is not. Walking the dog is regarded as being ‘fun' and possibly if you're lucky, ‘cool'. It gives teenagers an opportunity to find out the lie of the land without being conspicuous which; let's face it, is every teenager's nightmare.
Helping put up the awning can work. If you're lucky, sending the teens shopping to the site shop is a good one, but don't include any bathroom items on the list as you simply will end up with four cans of baked beans and a bottle of coke instead. Teenagers don't ‘do' embarrassing.
They like it. Of course, teenagers benefit from it, and it's a great mood improver, but sometimes you need to be a little crafty to get them doing it.
If your teens are sporty, you are half way there, especially if you've chosen a site with or near a pool which is always a winner. Such a site will have a games room or similar area too. A games room is not always a precursor to a successful holiday though as I have found to our cost.
I booked what I would term a ‘high octane' site for a week in Devon this year. Not our usual thing at all but I thought it would keep our 15-year old entertained. It didn't.
Teens can be a shy species and the days of walking up to a kid the same size of you and admiring the size of their bucket no longer signifies the start of a beautiful holiday friendship.
Those table tennis tables, tennis courts and boule only work if you have more than one teen, and they get on. Or, if they've somehow already integrated and found a kindred spirit while dog-walking and filling the aqua roll but you need to have luck very much on your side). Mum taking the initiative and inviting a similar lone, but unknown, teen spices over for a bbq doesn't work either. For us, it nearly resulted in a camp fire, and not of the marshmallow variety.
3. Gadgets (obviously)
Not necessarily of the high-tech ones though. Almost any gadget will be snaffled up by a teenager. Male or female, they love the distraction and sometimes the anonymity of them. I include here simple, old-fashioned items such as binoculars or a compass. Genius.
In today's world of high-tech gadgetry, these antiquities are something of a novelty item. They love them, and they learn. Use a pair of binoculars alongside a smartphone app such as ship spotter or geocaching (treasure hunting to you and me) and your days out are sorted.
Likewise, being lent a camera on a long walk can occupy for an hour or perhaps even spark a lifelong hobby.The same goes for maps. So many teenagers have never actually studied an ordnance survey map and are fascinated by the detail they encounter, which can lead to all sorts of exciting possibilities.
It’s too easy on holiday to revert to the roles you’ve always had of adults in charge (even if, 99% of the time, it feels like the reverse). We have found that it's vital to give your fledgelings some responsibility.
They rise to it and the blossom under it and, more importantly, enjoy it. Simple tasks for young teens could include organising a walk/hike. They can plan it using apps or maps and maybe aim to walk to a place of interest or a circular walk to include a lunch stop.
I would suggest you take the time to praise the completed expedition and not grumble about it being too short, long, steep or muddy, and your teen will be a happy one, keen to arrange more trips.
We have taken cousins and friends on holiday with us and tailoring a responsibility or job to their individual interests works. My niece likes to cook and enjoyed planning a complete day's menu from buying the food on her own to cooking it all in the caravan or bbq and serving it up with panache.
We added to the occasion by sending invites and ‘dressing for dinner.' It may be different to a traditional day out at the zoo, but it works.
That hot potato. It’s all about finding out what works for you. We started off (over) optimistically with the plan that no wifi whatsoever on holiday was the way to go, he spends too much time on gadgets tuned in or tuned out and what he needed was more time in the open air running, hopping and skipping. Hmmm.
Cold turkey didn't work for us; the holiday started with a grump, we didn't get the benefit of having apps for him to use or even of being able to check the weather forecast ourselves. Similarly, I didn't fancy the idea of around the clock free wifi being available to him, or us, either as it would be too much like home. As ever, compromise saved the day.
Some sites offer a games room with free wifi which is a great way for teens to meet like minded new friends while under the guise of using their smartphones. Others offer limited wifi but for a charge. We sometimes offer to buy our lad an hour of WiFi, and he has to fund any further time out of his own pocket.If he wants to download a movie, we will typically support this too, at least once in the holiday.
It's certainly a good idea to check the wifi situation before you book a site. Let’s face it, teens aren’t the only ones who like a bit of wifi and if he's watching a film or busy snap chatting, at least we get our Rioja sunset back.
- Take bikes
- Get a MiFi, then trade off online time with family activities
- Get a teen-friendly van (see page XX)
- Try something new. Get out of your comfort zone and do something exciting with your resident teen
- Pick a van near public transport and pack your teen (or two) off to town
- Challenge them to cook/barbeque dinner
- Download the GeoCaching app by Groundspeak including Track and discover thousands of hidden geocaches hidden around the UK. (Free on Apple and Android).
- Facebook is for old people, like over 19.
“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog, so that someone in the house is happy to see you!” Nora Ephron
Teen Translation Guide (with associated facial expressions)
“Nnnnnngggggg” or “Uuuuuuhhhhhhg” Kindly refrain from speaking to me, I’ve barely slept (It’s noon).
“Whaddever” I saw your mouth move, but I simply have no idea what came out.
“I’m bored” I ran out of data yesterday. Could you ‘lend’ me £15 to buy some more?
Wow! What on Earth do you mean, “taking 27 selfies in an hour is too many”?
“So unfair” If you insist I empty the loo cassette, I’m calling social services.
“I’m hungry” Please bring me food. If I have to go to the fridge myself, I will empty it. Sometimes accompanied by the phrase “You do know fruit isn’t food?”
Can I borrow some money? Just give me your credit card details, it’ll save time.
“Reeeeally?” Please desist from engaging me in conversation, while I watch 17 drunk Russian men fit into a wheelie bin on Youtube.
“Seeeeriously?” You mean to say this campsite facility has no wireless internet connectivity? What century are you from?
“I’ve only been on it an hour” Okay, maybe seven hours (but gaming hours work like ‘dog years’.
“I’m busy” Look, it’s taken me six weeks to reach level 49 of Zombie War Dog Apocalypse. Please return to your end of the caravan immediately.
“Loser!” Despite all the years of care, love, attention, time and money you have expended on me, I really can’t agree with anything you say these days.
“You’re soooo embarrassing” Obviously, I can’t be seen out with you wearing that!