Should Parents Let Kids Travel With Other Families?

The survivor of the Panama plane crash was on vacation with a friend's family.

February 9, 2009, 9:27 AM

Dec. 27, 2007 — -- A free ride on a private jet, a visit to a foreign country, and a stay at a top-class resort are luxuries many may find hard to pass up.

Such an experience might be even harder to refuse when it is offered to your less-traveled children, who are oftentimes eager to vacation with their friends or friends' families.

But what began as an adventurous winter vacation for 12-year-old Francesca Lewis and the family she was traveling with — her friend Talia Klein, 13, and her father, Michael Klein, 37, — ended in tragedy, when the private jet carrying the trio crashed Sunday in Panama.

Both of the Kleins, as well as the plane's pilot, 23-year-old Edwin Tasso, were killed, and Lewis, the only survivor, suffered a broken arm and hypothermia, according to The Associated Press.

Klein had taken the two girls on vacation to an eco-resort he owned in Panama, and the three were scheduled to return home to Santa Barbara, Calif., earlier this week. Their plane crashed on its way to the Chiriqui volcano, where witnesses recounted seeing the plane flying low and struggling with bad weather.

Attractive as vacation offers may seem to children, parents should weigh the risks when deciding whether to allow their children to travel alone or with other families — especially on more adventurous trips — parenting experts told, and there are many things parents can do to try to keep their children as safe as possible.

"One of the toughest parts of being a parent is balancing how careful and cautious to be, while still making sure your child isn't too scared to taste life," said Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist and parenting expert. "Letting someone out in the world is a risk, but a school trip could have something like the [Panama crash] happen."

While many of the risks inherent in different life experiences, like traveling, are unavoidable, parents can still safeguard against foreseeable dangers by meeting with the parents who are taking their children on vacation, and making sure they understand what your children are and are not allowed to do.

"You want to investigate everything thoroughly," said Emily Kaufman, a travel expert, known as the Travel Mom. "You want to know the pilots are certified [if the kids are traveling via private jet], and if they are staying somewhere less populated, make sure there are safety and emergency procedures in place. Also review the rules and routines with your child, in case of an emergency."

In terms of what age a child should be before vacationing without his or her family, experts say it depends entirely on the individual child.

"Some kids are so mature and poised, and are ready to go off, and others just aren't mature enough to handle it," said Kaufman.

Alison Rhodes, a child safety expert known by many on TV as the Safety Mom, told that she'd go as far as making sure the family in charge of the vacation had a recent photograph of her child, and even knew his blood type &3151; just in case of an emergency.

"It's very easy for parents to become complacent and to say that nothing is going to happen &3151; but accidents happen, and more frequently than we'd like," said Rhodes, who said she personally would never allow her children to go on an adventure vacation with another family.

"Sometimes, you have to be a parent before a friend, and this is especially hard when you have pressure from your kids, but you have to stick to your guns."

Several parents told that the idea of sending their children away on a private jet, like the one involved in the crash in Panama, made them very uncomfortable, and said they probably wouldn't let their children go on one of them.

"I probably would not let my children go on a private plane without me," said Beth Blecherman, co-founder of the Silicon Valley Mom's Blog, who said that many families in the area own and fly private jets. "I have just seen too many weird things happen with private planes."

Blecherman said that she would send her children with a portable GPS device or a cell phone if they went on a vacation with another family, and that she thought technology would make her feel a bit more at ease.

"I would not feel comfortable, personally, with my children going on vacation out of the country with another family," said Amy Allen Clark, founder of, and the mother of two. "While I love and trust our friends, my children are my most precious commodity, and I would want to be the one in control in a situation like that.

"Joint adventures with other families can be a great option, though, and your children can get the best of both worlds," Clark told in an e-mail. "Not only can they enjoy a fun adventure with their friends, but they also have their family nearby if an emergency situation should happen."

But parenting experts say that, while preventive measures are good, and should be considered, risk is always going to exist, no matter what your children do or where they go — private jet or no private jet.

"When you're a parent, at some point, you realize your heart is walking outside of your body," said Schwartz. "But you cannot put your kids in a vacuum-sealed jar and have them live their life from there — even if we'd like to."

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