There is no right answer, but you need to consider your comfort level with the family, your teen, and their relationship, says Parents.com's Ask Your Mom advice columnist, Emily Edlynn, Ph.D. She shares what to consider before you let them go.

By Emily Edlynn, Ph.D.
September 11, 2020
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Illustration by Yeji Kim
| Credit: Illustration by Yeji Kim

Dear Concerned,

Where's that parenting manual we never got? This is one of those situations when someone telling us the "right" answer would be so much easier. However, as parents of teens know better than anyone else, that is never the case in parenting. Especially when it comes to teenagers and the collection of factors that affect whatever that "right" decision is: maturity, impulsivity, trust, and very strong emotions lighting up the brain in that intense way unique to adolescence.

It Depends on the Family—Both of Them

Depending on your family culture, there could be a quick "no way" or "sure" answer, but obviously that is not the case since you are deliberating. In some ways, it is easier to have values that would give us a clear, straightforward answer to this dilemma. But grappling with the decision is probably the more realistic scenario for many parents caught between wanting to be cautious yet open-minded.

A huge variable to consider is your comfort level with the boyfriend's family. My children are not yet teenagers, but they have friends' parents we know well and would trust to use great judgment with our own child. How well do you know them and how well-aligned is their parenting approach with yours? If your daughter is far out of oversight for an extended period of time, it's fair to know the style of chaperoning to expect.

If you are less familiar with the boyfriend's family, it doesn't signal an automatic "Nope," but it does mean more investigation. List some questions to pose to the parents that would help you gauge your comfort level. For example, "What is the situation with accommodations? What is the plan for the daily schedule and how will everyone get around? How will she be able to communicate with us?"

It Depends on the Teenager

Next big question: What is your comfort level with your daughter? Do you trust her judgment? Is she conscientious, responsible, and honest, or is she prone to impulsivity, rebellion, and omission of important facts? Again, most teens probably fall somewhere in the middle of these two sides of the judgment continuum, and a responsible adolescent can still make risky, regrettable choices, so no guarantees. But you need to do a gut check on your own trust in your daughter.

Another consideration connected to who your daughter is, is the nature of her relationship with her boyfriend. Does it appear to be a mutually respectful, mature, safe romance? I have met families who wouldn't bat an eyelash at their daughter vacationing with her boyfriend's family because the couple has not given them reasons to worry, and in fact, the parents feel like he's already part of their family. If you feel you do not have a good sense of who he is or how they are as a couple, that would call for more hesitation. Of course, if you have any warning lights flashing that he doesn't treat her well or is not reliable, you probably know the best answer.

Consider Safety

I'm guessing safety concerns are underlying your question, at least partially, and could be considered from several angles. There's the safety of your daughter being with her boyfriend for continuous days, the safety of how his family is involved, and then there are travel circumstances like the vacation destination itself, communication capabilities such as cell phone service, how far she is from you if there were an emergency, and we can't leave out what we all want to forget: COVID! In our current pandemic era, considering COVID "hot spots" and how the family follows precautions has to be part of the decision as well. Write down what you need to know that would alleviate your safety worries, get the answers, and factor this into the next step: discussing with your daughter.

Approaching the Decision

Involve your daughter in the decision-making process, while maintaining that you are still the ultimate decision-makers in your role as parents. No matter the final decision, though, this process is important for your relationship. If you approach her wanting to listen as much as express your thoughts, it will help her feel like you care about her perspective and regard her as mature enough to hear out your concerns in an adult way. She is more likely to trust your intentions if she has listened to at least some of your thought process, knowing you are not out to "ruin her life" if you end up saying no.

Now, let's be realistic; you could have the calmest, most mature discussion ever and if you say no, she may still level some exaggerated accusations your way. I have worked with parents who do know how they need to deny their teen's request but have difficulty following through because of anticipating a response like this.

When we say no to what they really, really want, it can cause an emotional firestorm that takes the strongest of resolves to withstand. It gives them no comfort, and they may never see it until they have their own adolescent children, but saying no can be just as painful for us. That's why we are the parents with fully developed brains better for making sound decisions, while their brains are still works in progress. If there were a parenting manual, it would tell us that we need to make the hard calls and suffer the fallout if it's truly in the best interest of our child.

The Bottom Line

There is no "right" answer to whether you should allow your daughter to go on vacation with her boyfriend, but many factors to contemplate to get to the right answer for your family. Get the information you need, follow your gut, talk openly with your daughter, and prioritize her well-being over her desires.

Submit your parenting questions here, and they may be answered in future 'Ask Your Mom' columns. 

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog and a mother of three from Oak Park, Illinois. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in working with children and adolescents.

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