The choice of clothing, hair styles and what should end up in her school lunch box every day has pretty much been hers forever, or for at least as long as she could reliably make those decisions on her own, but my oldest daughter enjoyed her first real taste of autonomy while traveling as a tween last spring.
Her own personal tweenage Independence Day came during a family vacation, somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, while we were enjoying an epic 10-day European cruise on board the then-brand-new Carnival Vista. She had recently turned 12-years-old and, thanks to her smartphone and Carnival’s clever HUB app, was always just a message away, so my wife and I decided to give her the gift of autonomy while we were on the ship. Our tween was allowed to check herself into and out of camp, venture to the Lido Deck for a slice of freshly made pizza, head back to the room to curl up in bed and read, or fetch her bathing suit and climb up to the top deck of the ship for a few rides down the twisting water slides. In exchange for our trust, all we asked was to be kept abreast of her movements via that internal messaging app. She aced the test with 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 earlier this month, and can right now be found head buried in her phone and hunched over a laptop. But before you go tsk-tsking her stereotypical 21st-century teen behavior, consider that this glut of tech time is happening not for the reasons you are probably guessing.
My teen daughter has inherited my itch to travel as well as my yearning to spend countless hours planning trips. Like me, she takes great geeky pleasure in being in the travel logistics weeds of how/when/where and how much, so this week I gave her a budget and allowed her to plan a dad & daughter spring break road trip weekend anywhere within a reasonable 1-day driving distance (for me, that’s 6-7 hours from home). How’s that for autonomy!
With all the giddiness of a toddler in an ice cream shop, she carefully scanned Google maps, eyeballing a 7-hours-by-car circle around our Philly suburb, and decided on the capital city of Canada. Next, my newly minted teenager hit up booking.com – the website on mom’s laptop and app on her phone – to find lodging that’s every bit as funky and unique as she is AND that would also come in under budget.
As I watched my oldest daughter feverishly plot our 3-night road trip, research restaurant menus to scout vegetarian choices for herself, and find a hockey exhibit at a museum she hopes I’ll enjoy, I realized that giving her this kind of unilateral autonomy today is just one more step along a path I’ve been committed to walking as a parent since day one. From the beginning, I felt it important to grant a child the ability to make their own choices in youth, when the risks are low, so that they may safely learn to understand the cause and effect of their decisions. That way, the odds get better 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.
Something tells me that whether or not her Ottawa restaurant picks are delicious winners, the rental home 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 our family, because she’s been making choices – some good, some bad, some minor, some major – for over a dozen years 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!