There is endless fun and challenges when traveling with children of all ages, and we believe each stage should be enjoyed and celebrated. Today we are going to take a look at the pre-teen age. This is a great age for travel with your children because they are able to explore and understand more than the younger kiddos, but are still working out the kinks of managing emotions and bad days (aren’t we all). Check out our guide to full-time RVing with our soon-to-be teenagers featured below!
Guest Post and Photos by Laura Georgieff
Expect Some Push Back
Pre-teens are 9 to 12 years old. They are teenagers in the making, transiting from the body and brain of a child. Your mellow kid might suddenly burst in tears or start yelling, triggered by a sibling’s words or look… and suddenly it is the end of the world.
What does that mean if you are RVing with a pre-teen? You can expect some push back. The child who used to love hiking, discovering, picking wild flowers, or swimming in lakes, might start thinking they’re is too cool for those sorts of activities.
For us, we are still mostly fine to go out and explore, but sometimes our kids reach their end point and wish they were anywhere but on a trail. Leaving with the expectation of push back, will help you be ready to tackle those difficult moments. Know that they are temporary and will pass, eventually. While most of the time your pre-teen will happily participate, there might be moments when you’re facing a melt down.
When this happens, take a step back. Getting frustrated/upset/angry won’t get you anywhere (we’ve tried that!) Open the conversation and see how you all can balance this family activity with something they might want to do later in the day or week. Could you come to an agreement where you will all go on a hike, and at night, let them talk on the phone with a friend, pick what’s for dinner, or allow them an activity later in the week that they’ve really been wanting to do?
All it usually takes is a negotiation and a trade. It is important to acknowledge that your pre-teen is a person of their own, with emotions and wishes. Those may not always be aligned with your agenda, but you are the parent and standing your ground is important and will set the expectations for your child. However, show that you are working with them by listening and trying to find a compromise that works for the entire family.
Example: Our kids know that they have no way of changing our minds when it comes to hiking / visits. We have never bulged on an excursion… however, extreme weather can push our pre-teen to her limits, especially if she did not want to hike in the first place. Because our family is strict on screen time and does not often eat out, we may negotiate a hot cocoa in front of a movie when we get back to the rig, and she can pick the movie. Or an ice cream of her choice at the ice cream shop. Sometimes, just the promise of an extra 30 minutes of Minecraft is all that’s needed.
Involve Them In The Decision Making
Pre-teens really wish they were independent and able to make their own decisions and schedules, but the reality is they sometimes need a little support. Involving them in the scheduling of your day can be very beneficial. They will feel like they have an input and be more likely to happily participate if they’ve weighed in to the decision.
As you plan your trip or your week, depending on how long you are RVing for, gather your pre-teen(s) and ask them for idea on things to do, then incorporate into the schedule. Another way to get them involved is to give them choices!
Example: Have your pre-teen google the destination and come up with a couple of things of interest. Incorporate two of their ideas into your week-long schedule and fill the rest with family activities of your choosing. You are essentially dealing with the push back ahead of time and can remind them, during your RV trip, of the fun things coming up that they have picked.
Set Clear Expectations
We are probably not the most gentle parents out there. My husband and I were raised in Europe, by European parents, where kids have very little say. I grew up RVing two months of summer at a time around Europe, and I don’t remember our parents ever asking for our opinion.
While we try to involve our children a little more, we also have very clear expectations. The first one being that they are the children and we are the parents. They know that everything we do, is with their best interest in mind – we also have talks with them, to explain that what they believe to be in their best interest can be quite different than what we know to be in their best interest.
We set clear expectations and our children are very well aware of what they are. We expect them to get their homeschooling work done in a timely manner, they know not to enter other people’s campers, to be polite and kind with other children and adults, no screens until 6 PM, and that the purpose of our trip is to visit, mostly by way of hiking.
The expectations are clear and there is virtually no negotiating on any of them. It helps everyone be in check and know the limits.
The rest of RV living is up for flexibility and the kids know that they have lots of freedoms within those parameters. But expectations are what keeps everyone walking in the same direction and pre-teens do well with structure as long as they feel like they can start influencing parts of the day!
Example: The daily hikes and junior ranger programs are not up for grabs. However, we are excited to ask our pre-teen what she’d be interested in. She can give her opinion on meal planning and after-homeschool-pre-hiking schedules!
Give your pre-teens responsibilities – just don’t call them chores! RVing is the perfect set up to make a pre-teen feel valued and needed as an individual. Pre-teens love to be treated like adults or teenagers.
RVing makes assigning responsibilities super easy. Whatever attracts each person is a good place to start! From outdoor needs to cleaning inside, there are enough responsibilities for everyone in the family.
Example: Ask your pre-teen to help out around the rig and tow vehicle. It could be anything from checking the truck’s oil level to ensuring the leave-camp list is all checked. It can be checking under slide outs for Lego pieces to ensuring all doors and screens are secured before leaving. When you get to camp, let your pre-teen handle chocks and setting up chairs around the table.
By letting your pre-teen feel useful, you are making them valuable and teaching them important lessons. You are also getting very useful help by a very capable member of your family. Remember, pre-teens’ interests are slowly shifting and they love feeling helpful!
Remember, They Are Still Kids
First and foremost, remember that your pre-teen is a kid. A kid with big emotions surging from new hormones and a need for attention.
Spend time eating ice-cream, jumping on the campground’s trampoline, playing a game of geocache, painting rocks, building sand castles. You pre-teen still secretly loves all of those activities and is waiting for an adult to normalize them. Show them that, even you, enjoy those activities. They are perfectly normal and not just for young kids. Partaking in simple fun is for everyone, including your pre-teens; and sometimes, all it takes is a little push.
Show them that it is perfectly normal to enjoy the simple things and have fun in nature. Cooling down in a river is fun, so is splashing and jumping from a river swing. They still love all of those things and you should enable them to have fun while you can.
Before you know it, that pre-teen will be a teenager, and much harder to convince of fun…
Tips For RVing With Pre-Teens
While I think that every age is the best to travel with, and I enjoy seeing how our traveling style evolves with growing children, I truly think that pre-teens are gold. They are still your kids, looking for a kiss, accepting encouragement, and happily picking a flower. Their imagination is still alive and they like hanging out with you (most of the time).
They’re also starting to have opinions, which is an exciting part of their individual develpment. While most days will be perfectly easy, just be ready for new reactions here and there and show them that you value their opinions. Your family has rules and expectations, but as long as you make your pre-teen feel heard and valued, they are a super fun bunch to travel with!