How This Dad Uses Travel To Give His Tweens Autonomy They Deserve

Her choice of clothes, hair styles and what she’ll pull out of her lunch box every day at school have been hers since she could confidently make those decisions on her own. My oldest daughter enjoyed her first real taste of autonomy though while traveling as a tween in May 2016.

My big kid’s tweenage Independence Day arrived during a family cruise vacation on the Carnival Vista.

We were in the Mediterranean Sea at the time, somewhere between Marseille, France and the Italian port city of Livorno that we were told serves as a gateway to Florence and Pisa — I dunno, ’cause we elected to skip the leaning tower, stay on board, and have the entire ship to explore pretty much by ourselves. #NoRegrets.

My girl had just turned 12-years-old a couple of months prior and, thanks to her own smartphone and Carnival’s affordable on-ship messaging service on their HUB app, was always just a click away from us. My wife and I decided that while she was safely on board we’d make use of the that technology to give our big kid the gift of autonomy. The tween was allowed to check herself into and out of Camp Carnival, venture down to the Lido Deck for a slice of delicious piping hot pizza, head back to the room to curl up with one of the many thick hardback books she insisted on bringing to Europe with us, or fetch her bathing suit and climb to the top deck of the Vista for a few trips down the Twister or Kaleidoslide water slides.

In exchange for our trust while on the ship, all we asked was that she keep us abreast of her movements via that nifty internal messaging app. She aced the test with Kaleidoslide-esque flying colors and it has been a steady march toward freedom ever since.

That first-born child o’ mine is officially a teen now, having celebrated her 13th birthday last month, and can right now be found head buried in her phone and hunched over a laptop. Before you tsk-tsk her stereotypical 21st-century teen behavior, there’s something you should know. Her tech time is happening not for the reasons you are probably guessing.

My teen daughter (yeah, that feels strange to type) has inherited my itch to travel AND my love of spending countless hours planning that travel. Like me, she takes great geeky pleasure in being in the logistical weeds of how/when/where and how much. Inspired by those jet setter parents who let their kids choose a vacation destination upon reaching a certain age, I gave the 13-year-old a small budget and allowed her to plan a dad & daughter spring break road trip weekend anywhere within a reasonable 1-day driving distance. How’s that for autonomy!

With the giddiness of a kindergartner in an ice cream shop, she scanned Google maps, eyeballing a 7-hours-by-car circle around our Philly hometown, and decided on the capital city of Canada. Next, my newly minted teenager hit up – the website on mom’s laptop and the app on her own phone – to find lodging that’s every bit as funky and unique as she is AND will come in under her modest budget.

As I watched her feverishly plot our 3-night road trip, research restaurant menus to find vegetarian choices for herself, and discover a museum’s hockey exhibit she rightfully believes that I’ll enjoy, I realized that giving her this kind of unilateral autonomy today is just one more small step along a long path I’ve been walking as a parent since day one.

From the very beginning of my parenting life, I have felt that it is critically important to grant my children the ability to make their own choices in youth, when the risks are low, so that they may safely come to grasp the cause and effect of their decisions. With luck (although we both know it is not ‘luck’ at all), the odds will only improve for them growing up to hone their critical thinking skills and become people of action versus indecisive adults afraid to fail by making a wrong choice.

I’m a dad who uses travel to give my daughters more autonomy and teach them how to make wise choices because it is a natural extension of my parenting style and philosophy. Also, I’m always up for another excuse to travel!

Something tells me that whether or not my teenager’s Ottawa restaurant picks are delicious winners, the cool downtown condo she found is as rad as it appears online or the Canadian History Museum is actually worth cheering, this will not be the last trip she plans for me or for our family, because she’s been making choices – some good, some bad, some minor, some major – for over a dozen years now and isn’t afraid to swing and miss at the puck.

My only fear is that next time, she’ll decide to ask me for a bigger budget!