It was so easy when they were young. They were excited about anything new or different. And entertaining them was as simple as stopping by a small amusement park, taking a boat ride, swimming, fishing, etc.

As a childless aunt of four nieces and nephews, I could always find ways to entertain when they came to visit. For I live in a different country, and everything was “different” and exciting. I could “drag” them to all sorts of places where I wanted to go, and as long as I kept them moving, things were okay. They would tire out, as would I, and we could go home and take a nap. Then, it was up and at it again.

I was the social director; I was the constant monitor, keeping a watchful eye on them at all times, just as any babysitter would. And trying to keep them busy at all times meant I had to plan almost every minute. It was, frankly, exhausting.

The Transformation

But now, those cute little impressionable critters are adolescents, (tweens and teens), and I am the “uncool” adult in the room.

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I learned this when my sister and brother-in-law brought their two on a visit and then left them with me while they took off for a business meeting.

It was clear from the onset that this would be a different visit. Their focus was on making sure their devices (phones and tablets) would work, that they could get enough screen time while at my place, and that they could message all of their friends and access their mobile apps and games through my high-speed Internet connection. This, of course, was not a problem, and my nephew was especially happy that he could play his latest Minecraft frozen shipwreck game. Whatever that is.

So, here I was, looking at two “couch potatoes,” and trying to figure out how to entertain them for the next five days.

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And here is what I learned, that I now pass on to anyone traveling with and trying to entertain ‘tweens and teens.

1. Come to Agreements

Adolescents have definite opinions about what will entertain them and what will not. So, the first thing I figured out was that I had to involve them in what we would do during our five days.

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I took advantage of their technology. And I asked them to do some searches and come up with places they wanted to see and visit (I figured medieval churches would not be on that list). I did give them a little bit of guidance here. I mentioned small villages nearby; I mentioned water parks (yes, they do exist in foreign countries); I mentioned the zoo, the shopping areas, and even the Hard Rock Café where they could both eat and shop.

Ultimately, they came up with a number of places (yes, the Hard Rock Café was one of them), and we scheduled them all in over the five-day period we had.

2. Let Them Sleep In

My niece and nephew were up long after I went to bed. And here is the good thing about this. When they were young, they were up very early, and I had to be “on my game” very early too. Now, I found that I could get up at my normal time and just let them sleep in. After all, who knows how late they were up last night, either gaming or chatting with friends. It gave me quiet, peaceful time, and I loved it. And, they loved me more, because I was not forcing them out of bed and into the shower so we could “get going.” Mornings were leisurely.

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Once they did get up, we would walk down to the local bakery shop, get great pastries and drinks, and just enjoy the fresh air as we sat outside and talked about what we would do that afternoon and evening. I was clearly becoming more “cool.”

3. The Shopping

My “charges” had a good amount of spending money, and they wanted to spend it all. And I left them fully in charge of how they spent that money. We got on the trains, went to smaller towns, and I left them on their own. I sat at a small café, had my coffee and sandwich, and read my newspaper while they explored. They loved the independence that I was giving them, and I loved that I did not have to be the hovering social director. And because I did not monitor how they spent their money, I became even “cooler.”

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4. The Beach was a Winner

It is lucky that I have a beach just a short train ride away. One thing that does appeal to this age group is the beach. We did go two days out of the five, and that was clearly a winner. Again, I gave them independence, because both knew how to swim and had no fear of water. They even “hooked up” with some local adolescents, while I sat under an umbrella and monitored from afar. A perfect situation.

5. Give Them Alone Time

Tweens and teens are moody; they are also intimately connected to their devices; and they want time to themselves with those devices and with their friends online. When we finished a day of outings, I let them have that time while I did other things around the house. It was a perfect arrangement, and they were certainly appreciative. No pressure -that’s what I have discovered adolescents want.

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6. Adopt a Flexible Attitude

Even though we had developed a schedule of sorts, that schedule had to be subject to change. Adolescents can be fickle in their wants, and it is important to respect that fickleness. On two days, they wanted to stay around the house until we went out to dinner and to a movie. I was fine with that. I went out and brought breakfast in, fixed their favorite lunch, and then off we went to a great little café for supper and then to a movie (an American one, of course, that was dubbed and which they found quite amusing).

7. Balance Between Cultural and Physical

I did want the kids to gain some cultural experiences, but had to accept that culture is not always a matter of museums. It is getting out among the locals, observing their behaviors and interactions. We were able to go to a street festival while they were with me, and that immersed them in culture more than any museum could have. They loved it. And I reconciled myself to the fact that the museums and churches would probably have to wait until they were older – not a problem for me. I’ve been to them many times before.

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8. Keep Them Fed

Teen eating habits are not on any type of schedule. They seem to prefer to “graze” rather than settle into three meals a day. One of the things that I had to adjust to was odd “feeding” times and no schedule for that eating. My solution? I went to the store the first morning they were sleeping in and stocked up on everything I thought they would like. I gave them free access and reign over the fridge and cupboards. And I did not care whether they were eating “heathy” or not. After all, it was their vacation too. The fact that I did not press the point of nutrition and accommodated their food tastes was much appreciated.

I did, however, “force” them to try local fair, and that was easily done by taking them to local cafes and restaurants that only served local fare. And they did find that we have some pretty tasty items after all. When I observed that they were taking pictures of their food and sending them to friends, I figured they were somewhat impressed and wanting to impress their friends too. Score another one for the aunt.

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9. Do Not Insist on Selfies and Videos

Adolescents are very picky about what they want memorialized in photos and videos that include them. They want to decide what they snap and record and share with their friends. I banned myself from taking pictures and videos. And I let them choose what to memorialize. They did not want to always include me at first, and I honored that. As the days wore on, however, they decided that I was a “player” in their vacation and began to include me in their photos. I was honored, of course. And it told me that they thought I was an important part of their vacation. A good feeling!

So, I learned a lot from having these two adolescents with me for five days. While our time was radically different from the times we enjoyed when they were little, I found that being flexible and letting them choose what they wanted to do (or not do) was the clear winner. When their parents came to retrieve them, they both talked about what a great time they had and would love to come back again. I guess I have entered the “cool” relative category. And quite frankly, it is a lot easier than it was when they were little.