You’ve done some research and decided that a sabbatical year in Spain is worth the effort and short-term sacrifices. You’re also convinced that your teenager is more than ready for this kind of challenge and that they’ll benefit enormously, even if it takes them years to realize it.
So how do you persuade your teen to go along with the idea? We recommend the following five strategies, which come from families we’ve worked with.
1. Put your best communication skills to work:
First, the average teenager doesn’t have patience for long explanations. Present your idea as brief responses to the five W’s (who, what, where, when and why), and then encourage your teen to ask questions. Keep in mind that when you first share your dream of a year in Spain, you’ve probably already spent weeks or months considering it from different angles.
Give your teen processing time before asking for a reaction. Try not to present your year in Spain as an irreversible decision. Listen to your teenager’s worries and concerns, and thank them for raising questions that need further research. Be prepared to honor your teen’s reasonable non-negotiable points, such as
repeating a school year or losing their place on a traveling sports team.
Finally, if you’re worried about not getting to lay out your argument completely or if your initial conversation wasn’t productive, don’t hesitate to write your teen a letter. The novelty alone will get their attention!
2. Offer an incentive
Teenagers are on their way to becoming adults, but they still need more tangible and immediate gratification than you do. In fact, the benefits we most often hear from adults dreaming of a year in Spain—learning to navigate another culture and improving their Spanish—are too vague and distant to persuade most teenagers. This is where an incentive can be useful. Acknowledge the specific things your teen is giving up in order to move to Spain and ask “How can I make it worth your while?”
What you ultimately settle on should be tangible, available before you leave for Spain, and appropriate for your child and the context. Just as important, the incentive needs to align with your family values. If your teenager’s main concern is staying connected with friends, for example, an appropriate incentive might be an updated phone or tablet they get in the weeks before departure.
3. Connect your teen with others whose families have taken a sabbatical year
Communicating with other teens whose families spent a year in Spain could be appealing and useful. Your Year in Spain can help connect your teen with a peer who is currently in Spain or who has already gone through the reintegration process back at home.
4. Encourage your teen to take ownership
Let your teen know there are many ways for them to shine before they ever leave home. They can take responsibility for researching specific questions, especially those related to their home school and extracurricular activities, and for getting their room ready for your year away.
Your child might also want to talk with their teachers (Spanish, geography, history) about doing an extra credit presentation on Spain or an aspect of Spanish culture.
5. Make it fun!
As soon as the cat is out of the bag, you can switch gears and start looking for ways to engage your teen in research and ongoing decision making. If your teen is a foodie, try a new Spanish recipe once a month to learn what the food might be like. If your teen plays video games online, encourage him or her to engage with players who write in Spanish (or at least notice what those players write).
Get photo-rich travel books from the library to help envision what Spanish street life might be like. Watch soccer games with Spanish teams, listen to Spanish music, and watch Spanish movies or series with the subtitles on. Make or order in a favorite meal for an evening of brainstorming questions for further research. Do what makes sense for your family to enjoy this period of planning and anticipation.