Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Traveling with Teens: Part 3

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Howling Acres Wolf Sanctuary in Oregon

Spending a week with up to six teenagers for the last three summers while they work at the wolf sanctuary is always a highlight for me. I borrow a car (we call it the living room on wheels), get emergency consents and medical histories on the kids (that is from my old girl scout leader training), collect $230 from each kid, pack the camping gear and kitchen basics, and away we go. During the drive the teens plan the menu and make the grocery list, and right before we arrive, we buy groceries and put the ice in the coolers. It takes about 12 hours to drive each way, and during the seven days there we all work hard, play a lot, and mostly enjoy each other's company. The sanctuary is in a rural part of Oregon, very quiet, and in some way, very spiritual. The wolves remember the kids each year and greet them like old friends, wagging their tales, playing, kissing, and in some cases, knocking them over to get a better view.

My role is driver, cook, nurse, problem solver, and responsible adult. I tell them what to pack, remind them that they will have to wash their own dishes, help cook, and monitor their own stuff. I try to stay out of their way and let them be as responsible for things as possible, including resolving the squabbles between the two most inflexible of the teens. The same group of kids come each year and they look forward to the trip all year.

I always wonder why after overhearing their calls home. I hear things like "today we scooped poop, cleaned pens, recycled stinky trash, cut up raw meat, and hauled about a ton of food up the hill." "The port-a-potty is gross, and we are dirty and tired." But then, I hear them telling friends about some of the rituals - stopping at the Jelly Belly Factory, writing down funny quotes, listening to and singing Phantom of the Opera, spending the first and last night at Alpenrose, my mom's guest house in Mt Shasta, visiting a little bakery in the middle of nowhere, barbecuing buffalo burgers, and sucking Hershey bars that have melted. That is the stuff childhood summer memories are made of I guess and each year they beg parents and I to find the one week a year that fits with summer school, family vacations, and visits from relatives.

The memories from this summer may be a little sad, as while we were here the kids buried two of the wolves they have known for three years. The first one died and an autopsy showed she had eaten a toy that a well-meaning donor had sent the sanctuary, and it got into her intestines, and then made a hole in them, so she died of internal bleeding. The second one had a broken leg that abscessed in the cast and they put him to sleep to avoid amputating his leg and then discovering they could not save him. The kids buried their friends with love and will probably never forget the vet telling them that "God must have wanted more wolves near him, and these were the best!"

This summer I asked the teens what advice they would give adults traveling with teens, and here is what they said:

Lucy (14): Be patient. Do not attempt to argue with the male teens - they always think they are right. We cannot help it, it is raging hormones.
Virginia (14): Never travel with teenagers. Bring a lot of ear plugs, and be clear that there are standards of health and cleanliness. We make strange noises, and swear - be prepared to talk about everything. Remember to enforce good sleeping habits - we need ten hours a night. Teens are lazy - get us to work a lot, without nagging.
Madison (15): Have the teens rotate the chores. Remember that we are teens, we forget things, and need to be told exactly what the adult expects - sometimes.
Surya (12): Bring a first aid kit and lots of snacks, games, and sleep drops (aromatherapy).
Max (15): Do fun things, too. Like visiting places, water park, movies, Jelly Belly Factory, so it is all not just work!

I find all of that advice reasonable, and yet funny - because most of it I actually don't need - as this group of teens are very self-regulated and because we do this every summer, they need few reminders. I encourage all adults to spend 24/7 with teens that are not your own - it is a very different experience, and I have to say, it always appreciate my two daughters, even more than usual after living with other people's teens, even these wonderful youth.

Photo Credit: Sleesstak66

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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