Do you have teenagers in your household? If so, do you often act as a chaperone on field trips or pilgrimages? I just spent a weekend (as I do every year) with more than 1,000 teenagers at Mount Saint Mary’s College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. As always, I had a great time. Since I’ve been a parent for 35 years now, I’ve been a chaperone more times than I can count. I happen to enjoy being with teenagers. They typically get a bad rap in the media and society, in general. I know many wonderful, articulate, hard-working, kindhearted, holy, fun teenagers.
If you plan to chaperone a trip, there are several things to keep in mind. These tips are especially helpful to those who are chaperoning for the first time. Remember these ideas to help stay healthy and to get the most out of your experience.
You’re a chaperone, not a buddy
I love the teens in my life. Our house is often filled with large numbers of teenagers. It’s fun spending time with them. I also enjoy chaperoning their trips. However, if you agree to be a chaperone, you have an important mission: To keep the children in your charge safe while they are away from their homes. While it’s great to loosen up and joke with the kids in your group, too much of this can be a distraction.
Your job is to keep them safe. This means you sometimes have to make decisions they might not like. To be a good chaperone, you need to be willing to make that decision anyway because you have their best interests in mind. For instance, it is not okay to let minors wander around a hotel in the middle of the night, unsupervised. They might bat their eyelashes, and pretty-please you to death, but you are risking their safety if you give in.
Rise before they do every morning
Being a chaperone on a teenage trip is fun but exhausting. Resist the temptation to sleep in as late as you can each morning. It’s better to be up and ready before the first teen puts his or her feet on the floor. Also, taking time to exercise, pray, shower, dress or have a cup of coffee, lemon water or whatever, will provide much needed energy. It also sets a good example. Many times, field trips or spiritual pilgrimages function on tight schedules.
Let the teens in your care see that you’re excited about the day ahead and are up and eager to get started. They’ll be more likely to follow suit this way. Attitude is everything on a road trip with teens. It’s also a good idea to remember that every person is unique. Being away from home, living with other teens and chaperones for several days or more, etc., can be challenging. Don’t take it personally if someone is in a bad mood. Give him or her some space and try to encourage a turnabout in attitude so the day is not a loss. Many times, a meal, a brisk walk outdoors or a shower is enough to cheer a grumpy traveler up in no time.
Adhere to child safety rules
The school, church diocese or other group you’re chaperoning likely ran a background check and had you undergo child safety training. Stick to the rules. It might seem like no big deal to let a teen ride with you to the nearest convenience store when someone forgets a toothbrush or wants a snack. Remember that, as a chaperone, your priority is child safety. Never go anywhere with a minor as a chaperone unless another adult is with you.
If you plan on allowing kids to hang out in each other’s hotel rooms, insist that they keep their door at least partially open. It’s best to have chaperones in the room, but if you’re right across the hall, and your door is open as well, it should be fine. No closed door visits, especially when boys and girls are together.
Bring ear protection if noise bothers you
Field trips or pilgrimages can be loud, especially if there are concerts involved. If you can’t take a lot of noise, it’s okay to wear sound plugs intermittently to give your ears a break. It’s not something you want to do for an extended period of time because you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you to keep everyone safe.
If you have a particularly busy, noisy day, indulge in some quiet time when you return to your lodgings. Travel with an essential oil diffuser to fill the air with soothing scents. Avoid watching TV in your room. Just enjoy the quiet and get as much rest as possible.
Hydrate or die
This is the mantra the seminarians at Mt. Saint Mary’s gave us a few years back. It stuck. The group of teens I chaperone often yell it as a cheer to remind themselves and me to drink water. You have to be in tip top shape to keep track of teenagers on a road trip. If you don’t drink enough water, you’ll quickly feel sluggish. You might have trouble concentrating or making decisions. This is a recipe for disaster.
Drink water and make sure every child in your care is drinking enough as well. Don’t take their word for it. Make sure you’re observing each person drinking water. Consuming soda is not a valid method of hydration. In fact, it has the opposite effect!
Have debriefing gatherings each night
It never fails that my kids and their friends always say that some of their best memories of our trips include our debriefing sessions. Every night, we gather around for some snacks and we talk about our day’s experiences. We try to share something that made us laugh, something that made us ponder or inspired us, and something that challenged us. If you have a teen along who is musically talented, ask him or her to share the gift at this time. Having someone strum a guitar or sing, etc., helps soothe and calm everyone to prepare for a good night’s sleep. It’s always nice to end the day with group prayer.
Final thoughts for every chaperone
Chances are, you’re going to be exhausted by the end of the trip. You might have an urgent moment or two during your travel time. Someone might get sick or injured. Things might not go as planned. Schedules might have to change. Teens might not always interact or respond as you had hoped. It’s okay. Don’t think that means they are not enjoying themselves or that it’s not worth your time. They are, and it is.
One of the most special parts of my recent time as a chaperone was that my co-chaperone is a young man who is newly married. I’ve known him most of his life and he used to be one of the teens on our annual trips. It was awesome to see that he wanted to give back, to keep serving and helping youth now that he is grown and on his own. Being with teens refreshes my spirit and fills my heart with joy. I suppose that some day I’ll be too old to chaperone although I plan on continuing for as long as I can!