There are two significant rites of passage in a teenager's life. The first is the festival following the completion of their GCSE's, the second is the holiday abroad with their mates after their A'levels. The use of the words teenagers and holiday in the same sentence are guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of most parents but it is an inevitable event.
Despite being aware of this milestone ourselves, now only six months away from our eldest teenager leaving college and embarking on a new life chapter, the reality of the "Teenagers on Tour" holiday is no more palatable now than it was this time last year.
As a mother of course it is the territory of nervous breakdown. He is proudly wearing the badge of having survived unscathed a five day festival in Cornwall last year so equally I have experience of surviving the mental anxiety of possible sunstroke, excess alcohol, swimming in the sea under the influence and falling off a cliff, so what more is there?
Well there is as much as your mind allows. But inevitably, excess alcohol is still there along with jumping off a hotel balcony, being mugged or worse still being drugged by those who make a living out of targeting vulnerable teenagers or even being arrested and thrown into a foreign jail to rot.
We have all been teenagers of course but parenting one is a whole different ballgame. The discussion as to where to go has been an interesting one to say the least and has occupied many a conversation around the dinner table for a few weeks now. Magaluf, Ibiza, Malia, these are all touted openly to teenagers as the place to go. They are cheap and come with a guarantee of fun and no imagination required. As each of the teenagers in my son's group started to suggest a destination I was behind the scenes contacting mothers I know that have been through this already with their older teenagers to canvas their opinion.
In hindsight it probably wasn't a wise move as of course the more you dig the more worms you will find and I found them in bucket loads. "Oh no he doesn't want to go there. That's where they film "Brits Abroad"!" "He wants to avoid that island it is just organised chaos!" As you can imagine trying to feed this back into the group chats without appearing to influence their decision was not easy and there were a few fiery moments along the way. Desperately I turned to my husband for help who had been quietly ignoring everything from his armchair for days. Forced into the front line his question to our teenager was "What are your criteria for choosing somewhere?" Seriously??!! They are a bunch of 18 year olds.
It is not sightseeing, it is not regular mealtimes, it is not being nagged to "get up and get a move on!" or "have a shower!" Essentially it is absolutely not about following rules especially your parents', it is about doing what the hell you like when you like, it is about hanging out with your mates who get you 100%, who you love and adore for all the right reasons before you all disperse to different parts of the country, it is totally about having a ball ... and that quite frankly needs no explanation to anyone that has been a teenager.
My first holiday away was InterRailing which was the go-to option back in the 80's. For a month we jumped on and off trains across Europe, hyper-ventilating on the whole sense of adventure and complete unfettered freedom. We visited some spectacular sights but we also slept in some really dodgy places, were mugged at gun point and ultimately begged our way home from Southern Spain to Dover as we ran out of money and had to survive on eating left over sandwiches and packets of abandoned biscuits and all without a single mobile phone in sight!
A three month tour around Asia whilst at university, involved hiring a Harley Davidson and cycling pillion through the mountains of Northern Thailand without a helmet - of course I would go ballistic if one of mine did that! In the style of Thelma and Louise, we drove an open top yellow jeep around the whole of Bali and got a buzz on being girls in arms together. We sat on the roof of a train through the paddy fields of Malaysia because there was no room inside. We risked our lives on a daily basis on the unlicensed Phut Phut's in Bangkok to visit such sights as the Temple of the Golden Buddha. We got drunk on Singapore Slings in Raffles Hotel because there was a monsoon going on outside. We bought beautiful silk on the street markets and had it made into fabulous dresses for less than a tenner and dreamt of being the best dressed girls back at Uni. We slept outdoors on the beaches in Koh Samui. We ate well, drank alot, smoked way too many Marlboro reds (because everyone did), met fabulous people, soaked up the culture and created 100% A1 star memories.
I am under no illusion that our son will make any of these kind of memories on his first holiday abroad but it is the first step to real independence and experiences that will shape him as a young man and after working so hard I want him to enjoy being with his mates one more time. In the meantime of course it is all about safety! Despite the horror stories, the reality is that most teens have a great time and return home in one piece if not a little bit worse for wear and smelly!
The parents have set up a group chat of their own to confirm a location everyone is happy with, to exchange emergency contact details and ultimately to agree on a line of fire for the boys. Preaching to them is no good at all and nagging is totally off limits or they will push those boundaries even further. They have all been away together before so they know each other's weak spots and how to look out for each other. Parenting teenagers is a battle between letting them go and wrapping them in cotton wool. We have to let out that rope now and trust them on the next stage. In addition, we have passed on our own words of wisdom as "has-been teenagers ourselves" and hopefully they will adhere to our advice even whilst having fun!