Skip to content

E.P.C.O.T. – Giving Teens Their Space

How to balance a quality family vacation with teens’ much-needed “alone time.”

by Blake Taylor

Welcome to another installment of E.P.C.O.T., short for Efficient Parenting Counsel on Teens.  Today we look at another aspect of taking teens to Walt Disney World that families might overlook in the planning stages: alone time.

Even though Walt Disney World is definitely a place to make lifelong memories as a whole family, sometimes we teens admittedly become a bit agitated after spending hours on end with family members.  Please don’t blame us; it’s those pesky hormones kicking in.  As much as I love my family and enjoy being around them, several times during the vacation I greatly benefit from spending an hour or two by myself, strolling the parks at my own leisure without having to worry about satisfying anyone else’s agenda.  In short, it’s a mental break.

What’s the right age?

Like most parental decisions, this varies depending on your individual teen.  I was never allowed completely on my own in Disney until high school.  That being said, I never really desired to be on my own until then, anyway.  This also depends on siblings; for instance, once I reached the “magic age” when my parents felt comfortable with me being on my own, they were fine with my younger siblings going with me.

How long should this “alone time” last?

It’s important to remember that this is a family vacation, not a solo trip.  A hoopla of money is shelled out for a Disney trip, and I firmly believe that most of that time should be spent together as an entire family.  A few hours is an appropriate amount of time; anything more than that is stretching the purpose of being alone.  An exception might be if the parents and teens have drastically different preferences (such as if, for instance, Mom and Dad want to spend a day golfing while the kids don’t want to anywhere near a golf course, in which case spending the day apart would be acceptable).

How far is too far?

…With “far” in this case literally meaning the distance apart.  Again, this depends on the age of your teen and the trust level you have with him or her.  Thankfully, the geography of Walt Disney World is simple enough so that you can set a distinctive boundary based on your family’s own preference.  Take, for example, the Magic Kingdom.  If you’re headed to Peter Pan’s Flight and your teen wants to split, you can either tell him to A.) stay anywhere in the Magic Kingdom, B.) stay anywhere in sight of the Castle, C.) stay anywhere in Fantasyland, or to D.) stay between the Haunted Mansion and the carousel.  There enough landmarks and “lands” to make splitting up relatively stress-free, especially if your family is familiar with the parks.

Personally, I’m always in the same park as the rest of my family, even when I’m apart from them.  Being in separate parks just makes things unnecessarily complicated, and will ultimately end with someone backtracking once the whole family gets back together.  I have, however, gone ahead of my family to the park when they were lagging behind in getting ready in the morning.  I headed to catch the opening show at Animal Kingdom, explored a bit, and met up with them at Expedition Everest about 30 minutes after park opening.

My family most often splits up when one of us would rather experience something that the rest of us would prefer to skip, such as when I opted out of the Backlot Tour when I wanted to catch a special Citizens of Hollywood performance, or when my brother wanted to ride Pirates of the Caribbean at the end of Extra Magic Hours when the rest of us preferred Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

It’s Disney World.  There’s top-notch security in place everywhere and, even when en route from place to place, getting on a Disney bus is a little different than hitching a ride on the city metro.  No matter where you go, you’re safe.  There’s no real lingering danger of anything traumatic happening.  If you are concerned about the whereabouts of your teen, though, have them send you a check-in text or picture mail at regular time intervals.  That way you know where they are regularly and they’re constantly reminded of their restrictions.

While Walt Disney World is a place to make lasting family memories, it’s important to give teens their space from time to time.  It lets them explore the World on their own, and gives you a little break as well.

Blake is a high-school student who has been surrounded by Disney literally since birth, having had a Mickey mobile in his crib.  Blake enjoys helping peers plan WDW vacations and writing for his Disney blog, BlakeOnline.com.