Living in caravan means little personal space, increased interpersonal interaction and nowhere to hide. Now, most couples struggle with this concept as a couple, throw in a couple of rugrats and the tension increases. Now, increase the age of the rug rats to preteen and teenager and you are just making a witches brew sure to bring terror to many.
So, not one to run from a challenge, we are doing just that. We are living with a 14 year old and a 9 year old in a Caravan. We have been on the road for over two years, so when we first left home they were 12 year and 7 years. Not an age that many people decide is the best time to travel this country, enjoy the sites and school their children, but it is what we have done and this is what we have learnt so far.
There is little to no peer pressure for our children. They still socialise with kids their age through their online school experience, and the occasional school camp that we get them to, as well as at camp spots, but there is no peer pressure to conform. There is no demand for the latest, trendiest clothing, school bag or other superficial items they feel will help them fit in. Actually, we get asked for electronic device such as new iPads, updated GoPro and even more wifi so they can YouTube how to improve their movie making and other things like how to do handstand walk overs.
Actually, we have found that our 14 year old is surging ahead with technology and putting his work out there to be judged by the general public, without the fear of being belittled by his peers for his skills being recognised. He is finding himself surrounded by grown men asking for tips on droning, movie making and by others wanting to know how to create their travel facebook pages and linking them to Instagram and even website development.
Bullying is non existent within this environment, and thanks to this great community, our children are able to explore their interests, and learn about themselves without all the outside influences that seem to be a negative within mainstream society on a daily basis.
You are not your child’s friend
Living in such close quarters means that you do form a great relationship with your teenager. You learn what drives them to achieve, you learn about their sense of humour and see them growing into great adults on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean that your role within their world changes, you are still their parent, the ruler of their world, the lawmaker and the judge jury and executioner when they misbehave or step out of line.
The one thing we have found is that as living in close quarters means that your interactions are concentrated, then so are punishments. If they do something wrong on Wednesday, then the punishment is delivered and enforced that very day. We don’t have to wait until the Weekend when they whinge that they cannot go to the movies with a friend because of something that they did on Wednesday.
The one thing we have found is that everyone has something that means a lot to them. You have to work out what that is and that becomes the collateral for misbehaviour. We have found that removing electronics works in our van, that’s right, we take away their electronics for anything from an hour to 24 hours. If they complain, then the time doubles. That’s right, 24 hours turns into 48 hours and 48 hours will turn into 96 hours. We keep a track on the fridge for exact time and date of return. They may get to use the electronic device for school, but that is supervised and ensured that no other media is accessed. After all, education is important and needs to be completed.
A teenager, as we all know, is mixed up in a world where they are not sure if they are child or an adult. They are also experiencing all those hormones entering their system, and in many cases they want to assert their authority.
We have found that our 14 year old will tell us that he having a moody day, or hour. We often laugh at him and his behaviour and leave him to deal with it on his own. Yes, we will leave him at the van and go for a walk or tell him to go for a ride on his bike. Sure, we have had a few blow ups, and few yelling matches and a sometimes we have all walked away to sulk and lick our wounds, but eventually we talk about why things went south and gain an understanding of we could have all changed our behaviour so as we walk away sooner next time.
Essentially, there is no difference been a moody teenager at home compared to on the road. I do think that the caravan environment has helped to stop the moodiness carrying over for days at a time, because we don’t have time for it when we live in a small space and we are moving camps every few days.
Getting them involved
Our children are involved in everyday jobs, moving day jobs and in planning as well as our social media.
There are jobs that need to completed everyday, just like in a house, yet they need to be done more often during the day. We generally do the cooking, so the kids take it in turns to set the table, clear the table and do the washing up. They helped to negotiate how this was going to work for them, so we have a fairly smooth system.
They also have to pick up after themselves, if they were playing with something, then they need to put it away as soon as they are finished. This doesn’t mean packing up the game, it means also putting it back where it is stored. Their clothes have to be put away and they know the expectations. They are also expected to help with hangout the washing, putting the washing on, changing their beds and so on.
Moving Day Jobs
Moving day involves work. There is the break down and the set up. So, we all have jobs and we are expected to do them. These jobs have evolved and did require some negotiation between all four of us. This way, we all know what is expected, when things need to be done and I think we are a fairly well oiled machine now. We do still have a hiccup or two every now and again, but they are quickly smoothed out.
We have had a few comments in campgrounds about how we all work like a pit crew to set up, including a coffee on the table within about 45 minutes of arrival.
Planning Activities, stops and camping areas
We don’t have a travel plan or itinerary, so a lot of the time we decide on a location a day or two prior to arriving. This does mean that we can change or plans if we see or hear about a place that interests us.
We involve the kids in talking about our next stop, having them google what is there and what we might see. We talk about the activities in the area and decide if there is anything we really want to do, if we can afford it or if there is an alternative activity that is more affordable. We have found that this allows them the understand that we cannot always afford to do the things they want, that sometimes we have to sacrifice one activity for another and that life involves a lot of compromise.
I was against social media for our kids until I believed that they were responsible for it, and that they understood our family rules in relation to them having access. Now, call me a snoop, but I must have full access to all social media login information. It is not because I want to snoop on conversations that our eldest is having with his friends, but because I want to know who he is talking to, that he knows the person he is talking to and that the environment is safe.
This has worked seemingly for us. I also have the rule that no browser history is to be deleted. This way, I can ensure that if my child is googling for personal information on the internet, then we need to have another conversation about those areas of life. Personally, I would prefer to be open and honest about life, the birds and bees, and everything else, than to hide it or tell half truths. Coming from a Child Protection Background, I am know that children will search for the truth if we are not honest with them. It also helps to build a trusting relationship between you and your teen if you don’t hide anything from them when they ask the questions – no matter how awkward or embarrassed you may feel.
This is the bane of any modern parents existence. The world we live in is electronic, it makes our world smaller, more accessible and is the future that our children are going to function in. We have to allow them access.
Our teenager has taken over the majority of our social networking for our blog. He is educating himself on how it works, why it works and how to make it better. He is always trying to improve his skills with not only his Facebook and Instagram posts but also his movie making abilities, his droning, his GoPro filming and website creation.
We will often find him researching how to do something that he has seen on another profile, or how to do add an element into his editing. He is constantly amazing us at his skills and talents, as well as his teachers.
We chose Distance Education for our formal schooling. Our eldest has only ever experienced high school this way, and we have found that he is thriving in this environment. He has a personal relationship with each and everyone of his teachers. He knows what they expect from him and he also knows that the only person responsible for his school work is him. He cannot blame anyone, other than himself, if he falls behind or fails an assignment. We are lucky that we have very a high school student that wants to get the highest marks possible in each subject, so this does make our jobs easier.
We have a weekly, and sometimes daily, discussion about his school work. What he is up to, does he need help understanding anything or direction in how to complete the work. We talk about self-managed time and if we need to stop for a day and allow him extra school work time, then we do.
We still get the schooling attitude of “Why do I have to learn this?” and sometimes we are able to put the theory or mathematical equations into practice there and then. Yes, it annoys him, but we secretly have a giggle as he gets on and does the work.
I am finding that we are often homeschooling as well as we travel, visiting museums, sites of historical interest, learning about volcanoes and limestone rock formations as well as blow holes and distances travelled and other facts and figures as we travel. Allowing the children to immerse themselves in a special interest of their own, we see a lot of growth in their learning and in the work they produce for school.
Living in a caravan, a confined space, with a teenager has been one of the best decisions as a family that we have made. We have a close, reliable and trusting relationship with our teen. We understand his moods, we can stamp out any negative behaviour and best of all, we can watch him develop into the gentleman he will be as an adult. The jury is out about whether we will survive the female child in the same circumstances.