Summer is a time of family trips and outings. Figuring out a plan that suits everyone can be tricky. It pays to involve children in the decisions—without giving them too much control.
Taking part in family decision-making teaches children valuable skills. They learn to advocate for what they want, listen to others’ wishes and make compromises. But parents who have ceded some decision-making to their children warn there are right and wrong ways to do it.
The Johnson family of Denver is planning a car trip to western Colorado this summer. Amber Johnson says her daughter Hadley, 12, persuaded the family to go jet-boating, racing over the Colorado River at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour in boats driven by professionals.
It’s a plan Ms. Johnson and her husband Jamie would never have chosen for the family. But Hadley sees children’s museums as cheesy. “I’m kind of growing up and everything,” Hadley says. “I’m a little more crazy and adventurous than museums.”
Bode, 10, says he was nervous at first about jet-boating. Ms. Johnson reassured him that passengers wear life jackets and the boats are safe. Now he’s on board with the plan. “I think I might actually learn something, including having a positive attitude and being willing to do new things,” he says.
Giving the children a voice keeps them excited and interested, Ms. Johnson says. It also means suffering through their mistakes. Bode and Hadley picked a hotel online for a road trip last summer because it had a big pool, says Ms. Johnson, editor of Mile High Mamas, an online community. She suggested they might want to do more research, but “they jumped on it because it looked really fun,” Ms. Johnson says.
When they arrived, the pool was closed for renovation. Ms. Johnson sees such “soft failures,” or missteps with minor consequences, as learning experiences. “We would call ahead and do more research” next time, Hadley says.
Internet savvy helps children gain influence because they can research travel options online with ease.
president of Ovation Vacations, a New York City travel agency, says clients bring children as young as 7 or 8 to planning sessions. Mr. Ezon recalls one 12-year-old who made a convincing argument for his family to fly Emirates Airline because of its business class.
Parents can channel that kind of energy by setting spending limits or offering acceptable choices and letting children research and advocate for the ones they want, says
a New York City psychotherapist who works with children and teens. Parents should make the final decision, says Mr. Grover, author of “When Kids Call the Shots.”
of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., and her husband Mitch enjoy attending live concerts with their four children, ages 17 to 26. They allowed their youngest daughter, Hannah, to choose the most concerts, including Fall Out Boy, says Ms. Luker, editor of a blog on food, crafts and decorating. Ms. Luker stopped saying yes two years ago when Hannah, then 15, no longer seemed grateful or excited over VIP passes to meet her favorite bands.
Now 17, Hannah appreciates that her parents let her have a voice but also set limits. Being allowed to drive family decision-making “gave me a big head,” she says. “Parents have to walk a fine line: They shouldn’t be afraid to say no, but they also need to say yes sometimes, so teens don’t feel trapped” in a world of their parents’ making.
Parents should model good decision-making for small children and give them a small but growing role as they go through school, says
a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit mental-health organization in New York City. He advises parents to progress through “I do, we do, you do” stages of coaching from childhood through the teen years, with a goal of instilling independent decision-making skills.
Among those skills are listening to others’ ideas, accepting compromises and being open to new experiences, says
founder of Taking the Kids, a website on family travel. “Maybe one kid is all about the thrill rides and another kid is a foodie. You can allow each of them to have a voice, and then they’re each exposed to something new,” Ms. Ogintz says.
ask their children Marcos, 13, and Maya, 11, for travel ideas, “but my husband and I always have veto power” and insist on destinations where the children can learn about geography or other cultures, says Ms. Gutierrez, of Montclair, N.J. They agreed to Maya’s request to visit China two years ago because they’d already been planning to travel there at some point, Ms. Gutierrez says. While both children were excited about seeing pandas, they learned “how much more China has to offer than pandas.”
When Marcos asked to visit Fiji after seeing ads for an underwater hotel there, his parents said no because the family traveled to the South Pacific last year. They gave Marcos and Maya a say in planning a trip to Indonesia this summer, however. The family is looking forward to snorkeling, hiking volcanoes and visiting temples.
Write to Sue Shellenbarger at firstname.lastname@example.org
Corrections & Amplifications
The jet boats the Johnson family plans to ride do not have seat belts. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that they do. (May 16, 2017)