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Tell Us: Your Kid Went Where?

Cindy Loose

Remember when college students shouldered backpacks and went off for a European adventure, alone or with a few friends? We've been hearing more and more about high school students heading off alone -- not on the proverbial school trip, but fancy free, with a friend or two. And many aren't staying in hostels, but taking classy trips working adults might envy.

Some of the kids argue that they have to go to some exotic developing country to do a bit of volunteer work in order to polish their college application.

So we've been wondering: Do you consided this an example of the marvelous opportunities available to at least some teens? Or is it proof of spoiled kids needing more supervision than their parents seem to give? Your thoughts -- and anecdotes and leads -- could become fodder for an upcoming story.

By Cindy Loose |  January 3, 2008; 7:24 AM ET  | Category:  Cindy Loose , Travel Trends
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So you can best understand my opinion, I'm a twenty five year old law student who is the first in her family to go to college, let alone grad school. I have pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, if you will.

I choose it is "proof of spoiled kids needing more supervision than their parents seem to give" This is actually a huge pet peeve of mine. What high schooler needs to go to Aruba on their senior class trip, let alone jaunt off by themselves on a trip to other countries? Kids so young really do need supervision--so, taking such a trip under the watchful eye of Rotary or AYUSA would be fine. But by themselves or with such minimal supervision that they can go off and engage in what ever behavior they wouldn't dare engage in at home? What gain these kids are supposed to get from these trips? Exotic traveling has nothing to do with getting in to college, although I understand the volunteering point.

Posted by: DreA | January 3, 2008 8:42 AM

My High School (on Long Island participated in an English Exchange program for many years and I had the opportunity to take part in the last exchange in 1990. It was geared toward sophomores, but we had two "advanced" freshmen take part in the program (I don't believe they hosted a student, however). It turned out to be the last one because the following year was Desert Storm and parents/teachers/school admins' were worried. Go figure.

A small group of students were picked in the fall and we matched ourselves up with an English student via pictures and letters they had written. They came over in March/April of 1990 for about four weeks and our group went over to England the end of June through most of July. While they were here, we went to NYC and they went to school with us. My family took our student to Washington, DC over the Easter break. While in England, our group (that included two chaperones) toured London, went to the theater a couple of times, toured castles, went to school, canoed in Wales, etc.

17 years later, I am still in contact with my friend and her family and we still exchange birthday and Christmas gifts (it helps that both of our birthdays are in December). Long before e-mail, we wrote letters back and forth. We take turns calling each other on Christmas Day, too. Since 1990, she's been back here once (1995) and I've been back there once (for New Year's 2001/2002). We've shared a lot and I consider her one of my best friends.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime and to this day, I don't know why my parents said yes (I'm sure at the time it was an expense they could have done without). I'm just glad I asked!

Posted by: WDC 21113 | January 3, 2008 9:19 AM

I am struck dumb by the number of parents I know who blithely allow Johnny and Jane, ages 18-20, take off for totally unsupervised trips to places like NYC, Ocean City, Florida, the Bahamas and Europe. Check out these kids' Facebook pages (You do have access to their Facebook account, right?) in the weeks following and you will find great pictures of stupid teenage 'tricks' (hanging from hotel balconies anyone?) and lots of alcohol. OK, so maybe not EVERYONE, but the odds are pretty strong that things will happen that you will never hear about or don't want to know. The argument always seems to be that they are "good kids" and many of them are members of National Honor Society and student government, but they are still teenagers who are prone to bad decision making and not experienced enough at life to deal with things like a car problem far from home or getting robbed.

Our daughters, 16 and 20, are fortunate to have traveled with us as a family or with school and scout groups to Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Europe and about 15 states. I don't think that we are overly protective, simply responsible parents.

Posted by: AlwaysAnEagle | January 3, 2008 10:09 AM

When I was 17 I went off to Spain by myself for a few months to brush up on my Spanish and immerse myself in the culture. Did I party? Of course, it was completely legal and who wouldn't want to check out Spanish nightlife? Did it also spur me to become a Spanish major, study abroad for 6 more months in Argentina in college and score great internships in NYC? Well, that's true, too. High schoolers don't need to be coddled and watched like hawks, they need the freedom to expand their horizons, make mistakes and become adults.

Posted by: Ashley | January 3, 2008 11:01 AM

As a veteran of several international trips as a teenager, with school, family and private non-profit organizations, I would stress that the important aspects of any trip abroad for teenagers are supervision and duration. Supervision is (should be?) obvious: teens are just not equipped with the necessary decisionmaking tools or life experience to get the most out of travel. Duration is perhaps also obvious: you'll learn more about a different culture/language/place/whatever if you spend more time there and if you make the effort to immerse yourself, not just stick to the tried-and-true tourist routes.

In my personal experience, the school trips were pointless in terms of the kind of personal growth or accomplishment that would look good on a college application. The family vacation likewise, although I think I probably learned more on that trip. The formal exchange via AFS was fantastic, it literally changed my life. Another exchange, through a now-defunct organization, was less spectacular but still eye-opening and very valuable in terms of authentic learning about a foreign culture. It's worth noting that the school trips were short - 8 days at the most - while the family trip was 3 weeks, and the exchanges were 10 and 5 weeks respectively.

People should also keep in mind that travel doesn't have to be international to be character- or career-building, there's plenty to see and do right here in the US. Regardless of how far you go from home, if a trip expands your horizons, it's valuable.

The elephant in the room is that regardless of benefit, travel for any length of time generally costs a lot of money, and I was fortunate that my family could afford it. Cindy, if you're going to do a story on these trips, perhaps you could include information about scholarships?

Posted by: BxNY | January 3, 2008 11:12 AM

Much like...well, everything, it depends on the kid. I agree that the majority of high schoolers are not responsible enough to go off on their own for an extended period of time.

But, to use an example to illustrate my point, my horse riding instructor (now a freshman at Boston) took 2 weeks last summer to go visit Paris. DreA, listen to this...with her OWN money that she saved by teaching riding and piano lessons. She emerged from the experience with a better understanding of our global society and much better French.

Heck, I know 40 year olds that shouldn't be traveling alone.

Posted by: Liz | January 3, 2008 4:08 PM

"Some of the kids argue that they have to go to some exotic developing country to do a bit of volunteer work in order to polish their college application."

This foolish remark looks to me like a classic "spoiled kids" statement - or should we say children of ridiculous parents statement. Unspoiled kids would be able to figure out a way to do meaningful volunteer work closer to home, and un-ridiculous parents would help them figure it out if the child needed any assistance.

As to whether 17 year-olds are ready to travel on their own, I suggest you find someone in Australia to advise you on the common tradition of a Gap Year there. When visiting friends in Sydney and Canberra last July, all of the high school age students spoke about the plans/possibility/probability of Gap Year travel before starting university level studies. Some hoped to travel overseas, others planned to stay in Australia. Some wanted to work, some wanted to sight-see. The schools organized "Gap Year" information nights as well as the more familiar College information nights. None of the adults that I met seemed to think that independent travel is unreasonable for a 17 or 18 year old.

Posted by: cotopaxi | January 3, 2008 10:08 PM

I think someone who has just graduated from high school, MAY be too young, it all depends on the person. I am 44, and no kids, but I have lots of neices and nephews. For an international trip, I would think they really should have at least one semester of college ( away from home) under their belt. But, I didn't go directly to college, I worked a year or so first. I took a nice 2 week vacation after that first year. I took the train from Baltimore to Montreal, and then the transcontinental out to Vancouver, hopped on another train in Seattle and got off in Spokane, where I spent a week with one of my sisters. Then I flew back. I traveled alone. I had a great time. The worst thing was getting my wallet stolen in Montreal during my seven hour layover. ( did find it without the cash). Currently I am very envious of a few of my siblings' kids. I have one niece who has spent the last semester in Paris, Morroco and Cameroon learning French. Another neice is headed to Utrect for the spring semester. Also I have a nephew headed to Paraguay with the Peace Corps, to work with urban youth. I don't consider any of them spoiled ( maybe the one going to Utrecht). But I do consider them all very fortunate.

Posted by: rja112 | January 4, 2008 5:16 AM

I'm not keen on parents giving their kids trips across the pond or elsewhere as gifts for graduation, birthday or Xmas. But I think it's fine for a responsible person who's 18 or older to work, save money and plan to go to Europe for a couple of weeks with an equally responsible friend. That's exactly what my daughter did, and she had a fabulous time.

Posted by: sooz115 | January 4, 2008 6:01 PM

I think the bigger picture here is how things have changed in how kids have been raised. A factor is the kids in some ways are overprotected and in otherways they can be a bit snobbish.

Overall I think as high schoolers, chaperoned trips are fine. I was in my high school french club where twice during high school I took trips to Quebec City. Amazingly I survived. Once I did it as a freshamn, the other as a junior. I was abe to have it just fine.

Traveling is a learning experience for kids. Sure they could be robbed in europe just like they could be robbed across town. You also have to look at the child and say can they handke it, Some can and some cant. Some parents are just clueless to what their kids do.

Posted by: DJP | January 7, 2008 4:28 PM

I think you need to make clear what you mean by travel for the purposes of this article. I first traveled abroad with my 8th grade class to France. While I think I appreciated the trip, the other students in my grade were pretty immature and very spoiled. My dad happened to come along as a chaperone and I think I got a lot out of it (and no I didn't pay anything for it, tho this was pretty much the only trip I have taken with a majority contribution from someone other than me)-it led me to apply for a scholarship with AFS.

The summer after 11th grade I used the scholarship (it was a merit scholarship from AFS) to do a summer homestay in Toulouse, France. This experience was pretty challenging, I spoke zero English during my month with the family and had lots of cultural differences to deal with. I'm not sure I would consider this to be travel-it was more of an exchange (I did travel to France but I spent enough time there to make me learn something). Many high school students go on school trips to places that I really don't see them coming away from with much more than a hangover and a tan. Natalee Holloway, unfortunately, and her schools trip to Aruba comes to mind.

My experiences with travel in high school were pivotal in prompting me to travel even more as I grew older. I ended up spending a semester in college in Dakar, Senegal (not exactly as glamorous as some study abroad destinations) and spending 6 weeks in far east Russia and grew/learned so much and really had a great time. If I had not been exposed to getting out of my comfort zone in high school, I probably would have been reluctant to go to these places later on.

That being said, people often mean different things when they use the word travel. I don't think parents should be paying for their kids to go to a Caribbean island for spring break. That kind of travel really serves no purpose.

Posted by: kahuna | January 8, 2008 12:14 PM

I'm 27 and I don't think the high schoolers should be allowed to go off on their own, without an adult. That said, I believe travel is one of the best ways to spend your money and young adults benefit enormously from any sort, especially off the beaten track so they can see how other people live (especially those with much less than most Americans). A trip that includes volunteering is a huge bonus. I'm jealous of a lot of the opportunities afforded to "kids these days"!

Posted by: CarlyM | January 9, 2008 11:53 AM

I am 17 years old and am a senior in high school. Last year (gr.11) my school had planned a trip to New York City and my friends and I were all excited to go. I had been twice before, I was excited to be away from my parents for a few days but also nervous.
The teachers were less than responsible, they didn't even do a head count once on the entire trip. Let alone 2 girls were lost for approximately 6-7 hours and no one really stressed over their whereabouts. It was supposedly a "chaperoned" trip, but the majority of the time we were allowed to roam the big city free from anyone.

This March I am going to Cuba with my friends and a travel group. I am paying for 80% of the trip myself from my part time job. I plan on relaxing and enjoying myself free from parents and worry.I am all for letting your child experience the world if they so choose.

Posted by: Laura | January 13, 2008 6:49 PM

Hey everyone, great insights. I'd love to speak with you further. Laura especially. Can you please email me at loosec@washpost.com?

Posted by: cindy | January 13, 2008 9:48 PM

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