Planning a summer trip abroad? Will local customs present family challenges?

By Anita Schmidt, LCSW, Family Service therapist  That question is not always considered while planning a trip abroad with teenagers.  A host country may present different rules that challenge family positions on issues like alcohol, smoking, hours, and whether it’s safe to explore alone in a new environment.  However addressing situations that may arise before leaving home will make for a happier trip.

I often hear parents say they default to the rules and customs of the host country.  It’s sort of a “when in Rome…” attitude.  The question then becomes what do you want to model for your children? Do you want them to become accustomed to simply adapting to what goes on around them?  There are times when we find ourselves immersed in an environment that does not align with our values.  Do we acquiesce or do we maintain our course according to our internal compass?  This is where a brief discussion of family values before leaving the country sets the groundwork for following your family compass while traveling.

Clear, honest, open communication is important during the process, which means that we dialog with our children about the reasons for our positions on issues.  For instance, “I believe that drinking alcohol can harm your developing brain, therefore I prefer that you not drink until you are older, even if it is allowed in the countries we will visit.”   Parents often underestimate the power of their influence on their teenage children.

We believe that peers and their environment hold more power than we do.  It is true that as our children mature, they develop their own identity and values, informed by their environment, experiences, interactions and the values their parents model.  Research shows that the “parent piece” is much more influential than most parents think it is.  That is good news and something to keep in mind.  We cannot always influence our children, but often we can.  And “often” is important.