When grandchildren become teenagers, spending time with grandma and grandpa is not cool. Teenagers would rather hang out with friends, chat on their cell phones or shoot aliens online. Their schedules are dominated by sports practices, weekend dances, volunteering to buff their college applications, and part-time jobs to pad their wallets.
One way to capture their interest is to dangle an airline ticket in their faces. What teen wouldn’t like to shop in Paris on vacation? It’s a prime opportunity to expose your grandkids to the tastes, sounds, and colors of another culture, to introduce them to the Mona Lisa face to face, and to help them learn how to handle themselves in an unfamiliar environment. The growth potential is well worth the investment.
Here are some practical techniques that helped me enjoy two weeks in France with four teenagers:
1. The more, the merrier. The company of a good buddy automatically neutralizes possible complaints of boredom. Friends are usually on their best behavior in your presence, which may help smooth the inevitable highs and lows of a teen’s changeable moods. This doesn’t mean you have to pay for their pals. Have them and their parents purchase airline tickets and make prepayments for what they can; keep tabs of out-of-pocket expenses; and bill them for the rest when you get home.
2. Be cyber smart. Forget sending postcards. Find the nearest Internet café so you and the teens can hop on the computer to check in with those at home. Internet cafés in France don’t serve café, just the Internet. And the keyboard is different, so you’ll make a ton of typos unless a friendly fellow at the next computer shows you how to change the keyboard setup electronically with a couple of clicks.
3. Rise and shine. It is possible to get teenagers up before noon, just point out the long lines they’ll avoid by getting to the museums early. Nothing is more tedious for teens than queuing for hours at an attraction. The one exception, standing in line at the Eiffel Tower where the girls spotted the top rated hottie of the entire trip.
4. Carry ID. Each teen needs a photo ID in their wallet to take advantage of discounts. Entry to most museums and monuments in France is free for kids 18 and under. Passports will serve, but some travelers like to leave theirs in a safe at their hotel. If a teen’s school doesn’t issue a photo ID, they can get an International Student Identity Card from a nearby issuing office. A school transcript, passport-size photo and $22 are required.
5. Keep mum. Let the teens do the talking when traveling abroad. Their high school French or German or Italian has got to be fresher than yours. This also gives them control. So if, like one teen at our table, they are served rabbit vertebrae, they’ve only themselves to blame.
6. Listen to them. Teens may surprise you with the sights they want to see. I had one request to go to Chartres, not for the stained glass, but for the stone labyrinth in the cathedral floor. Another teen consulted a favorite teacher who advised visiting the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation. Otherwise, we would have missed the moving memorial to the 200,000 souls deported from France to Nazi death camps.
7. Split up. We entered the Louvre together, but the boys and the girls branched off in different directions. When the boys wanted to inspect the tanks at the Musée de l'Armée at Les Invalides, or the girls wanted to shop at Les Galleries Lafayette, we separated. The teens are not going to want to spend 24/7 with you, and after a while you will be desperate for adult company. Sometimes at dinner, we sat at separate tables. Once you’ve spent a few days scoping out the transportation and the lay of the land, have faith and let them loose on their own. Know their plans and set a firm time and place to meet up.
8. Keep in touch. In case of an emergency, try to have working cell phones — one for you and one for the teens — batteries charged, loaded with minutes. Make sure they know the number of your cell phone. Likewise, you should know how to work your phone and the number of their cell.
9. Stay alert. Unless they’ve had first hand experience, teens believe they are immortal and immune to mayhem. Have a serious talk about pickpockets, con men and other dangers, then remain vigilant. Teens have a tendency to dump their backpacks at a table then head for the buffet or bathroom.
10. Everything old is new again. The best part of traveling with your teenage grandchildren is seeing the sights through fresh eyes. The boys were bowled over by the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The girls cooed at every puppy and bird in the pet stores on the Quai de la Megisserie. Relax and enjoy the company of your grands. It’s the closest you’re going to come to turning back the clock.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.