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Jasmin: One of the joys of travel is experiencing how people live in other parts of the world (or even within your own country).
Differences in cultural norms, wealth, religion, and food are opportunities to learn tolerance and empathy. But there are times where even the most open-minded parent shields their kids from seeing or hearing things they consider harmful or too “adult.”
For example, nudity, sex, foul language, drug or alcohol use, or extreme poverty and suffering might prompt some parents to avoid certain areas or divert their kids attention. In our travels, I’ve tried not to shield the kids from a lot – but other families might have a different take.
I have many travel friends who take trips frequently with their kids, often thanks to miles and points. They’ve shared with me where they draw the line on censoring their family travels. And now I’m hoping you’ll comment with your strategies, too.
Should You Censor Your Kids’ Travel Experience?
It can be a difficult call for parents when you encounter things in your travels that might be unsuitable for children. And everyone’s definition of what’s inappropriate is different. I think most of us would choose not to point certain things out if the kids don’t notice – but as we all know, kids don’t miss much.
My kids are 8, 11, and almost 13. Because they’re not so little, I don’t get too fussed about nudity or sex. But I will shield them from anything violent, gory, blatantly obscene, or deeply disturbing.
That said, I won’t cover their ears if we encounter obscenities, sexism, or racism. It makes for good teachable moments about making the right decisions, and also helps them build awareness that not everyone is kind.
My friend Joanna has a son the same age as mine. Her family visited New York City last weekend, and she posted a pic she snapped in Times Square on Facebook (photo shared with her permission).
Her son is old enough to understand the context and meaning of the sign. So they had a discussion about good choices (and being honest, which I’ll give this guy a little credit for).
Forewarned is forearmed, too. If you’re heading to Europe, for instance, you might encounter a more relaxed attitude towards nudity, sex, drugs, and alcohol than we’re used to back home. So preparing your kids for what they might experience and having conversations beforehand is important.
For example, last fall, my mom, 11-year-old daughter, and I visited Amsterdam, where prostitution and soft drug use is legal.
My daughter knew what to expect, as did we. Pretty much every souvenir shop we entered had phallic keychains and marijuana products, which didn’t appear to faze my daughter at all. She ignored it for the most part.
But we did take a short walk through the Red Light District in the daytime. And yes, she saw real-life “bare naked ladies” in the windows (although some will turn away if they see a child approaching). I know some folks who’d be uncomfortable doing this with their kids, and that’s okay, too. I felt my daughter was mature enough to handle it.
The nudity didn’t bother her, but she was perplexed about why someone would decide on prostitution as a job. So we talked about how it’s legal in the Netherlands, and how prostitutes make decent money, pay taxes, and receive health insurance just like any other profession.
Her conclusion? “I don’t think it’s good career pick for me.” Good girl.
Now, would I have taken my 8-year-old son through the Red Light District? Nope. That would NOT have gone well. 🙂
Where Do You Draw the Line?
My friend Jessica, who travels more than anyone I know with her kids, shares a similar philosophy: “Don’t go to Rome if you don’t want to learn about Romans.”
But there are times where unexpected situations force you to make a decision on the fly. While walking through Paris, Jessica and her family came across upon a man lying on the sidewalk exposing himself quite graphically. She quickly put her hands over her 6-year-old daughter’s eyes (and said she would have covered her own if she hadn’t feared tripping over him).
Her daughter later said she thought her mom had covered her eyes because the man was dead. Jessica explained it was because “he was not using privacy.”
But she’s also made her kids plug their ears when they encountered atrocious racism and hate speech in Melbourne. She said,
Basically, I use myself as a barometer. If I wish I hadn’t seen it or heard it, I try to protect my kids from it. Everything else is a learning experience.
I think this is a good strategy.
Even then, there have been times where I’ve been on the fence about exposing the kids to certain things. For example, when the kids were younger, it was hard to decide whether or not to visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.
We ended up going, but I was careful to divert their attention or move away from some of the more horrible and disturbing images in the museum. Now that they’re older, we can talk more about the experience in the context of what they’ve learned about the Holocaust in school.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. It truly depends on your child’s age, maturity, and your family’s values.
While travel experiences are a tremendous education for children, you’ll also likely encounter situations along the way you might consider unacceptable or inappropriate for their age. Deciding whether or not to censor your child’s travel experience – either by avoiding certain areas altogether or blocking them from seeing or hearing things that might be disturbing – is a completely personal choice.
I’m of the mind that most of the time, these are opportunities to learn about how other people live and what’s considered “normal” in other countries. It’s opened up plenty of discussion about difficult topics in our family. And I’d rather the kids learn about controversial or unsavory things with my guidance, so that they won’t be curious or go seeking it out on their own later.
That said, every family and child is different. I’d love to hear about how you handle similar situations in the comments.