You’ve enrolled your teen in their summer program(s). Check it off your list.
While your teen may think he/she is ready to conquer the world with independence, parents often know best. Help them prepare and transition to their away-from-home program with these tips:
1. Review with your teen the program’s guidelines, requirements, and restrictions.
This includes electronics, laptops, cell phone policies, clothing, amount of permissible luggage (remember he/she has to transport it!). Your teen needs to respect these rules as well as the program’s staff. As most smart phones have cameras, some programs do not allow these devices. Look into sending an inexpensive digital camera instead. If a program enforces a no electronics policy, they usually offer a detailed explanation as to why they have this policy in place. Review this with your teen since the policy often reflects the program's philosophy, which is helpful to understand prior to the summer.
2. Reinforce the zero tolerance policy for alcohol, drugs, and unacceptable behavior (bullying included!).
Programs often require students and their parents to sign a written contract detailing the consequences for such actions. Use this opportunity as a teachable moment, discussing responsible decision-making and accountability. Your teen must understand that he or she will be sent home if the rules are broken! And be aware that I have seen programs send teens home even if their parents are away (with a pre-phone call); so have a back-up plan in case this happens.
3. Educate your child about the new countries they may visit.
It is no surprise that when traveling abroad, the culture may differ immensely from home. It's a good idea for both you and your teen to read up on the country he or she will be visiting so that you are both prepared for their upcoming experience. Make sure the clothes your teen is bringing are appropriate for the region of travel (i.e. Do elbows and knees have to be covered? Are hats allowed? Can shoulders be exposed?) You may even want to find hometown-area restaurants that offer some of the same cuisine they can expect to eat while traveling.
4. Establish a budget for your teen’s discretionary spending and discuss in advance how it is to be spent.
Giving a teen carte blanche with a credit card is typically a mistake; It's imperative that he/she learns how to budget their money ahead of time. And you can help! Having a debit card that you can easily add money to can be a valuable management tool prior to the summer, not to mention a precursor for college. Many programs offer suggested amounts to bring, which can help your teen budget money while away. If you plan to send cash and are concerned about your teen holding it throughout the trip, ask the program director if there is a staff member that typically holds money/valuables for its participants; or have them get traveler’s checks (which are replaceable if lost or stolen). Some countries do not accept credit cards and cash is the only way to obtain local currency. Helpful hint: if sending cash to be held by a staff member, separate it into weekly envelopes and label with teens name and amount enclosed. This makes for easy and efficient distribution.
5. Remind your teen you expect him/her to return home with greater emotional maturity and growth.
While teens need a break from their hard year of academics, their summer experience should not only be fun, but also be productive. This typically includes a new learned activity or behavior. Suggest that your teen keep a journal while away, but also encourage creativity with unique methods of documenting their journey, such as a photo-journals or maybe a food or travel blog. This provides invaluable memories, and will prove helpful if they decide to include their summer experience in a college application.