Having teenage children can be the beginning of a newfound freedom and independence both for the parents and for the kids. But the thought of letting your teens loose in a city of 25 million people is somehow daunting – especially if you’re new to the city.
Teenagers are spoilt for choice in Beijing. There is always something to do. Daytime activities may include checking out the art district, having a picnic at one of the city’s beautiful parks, exploring sights, going shopping, or simply having an ice cream with your friends – whereas the fun at night time is likely to go down at private house parties or even at bars and nightclubs.
It’s difficult to define when is a good age for children to start exploring Beijing on their own but as a mother of three teenagers (18, 16 and 13) I personally found it useful to seek advice from other parents. Class (or year) WeChat groups at your child’s school are, for example, an excellent way of consulting others.
However, I quickly realized that my husband and I may be slightly less strict than other parents since our oldest had lived away from home (in another country) already at the age of 14 to attend a music boarding school. He had experienced independence as a young teen. And in many ways, his siblings are now profiting from the trust we put in their older brother from a rather young age.
Newcomer families will be happy to know that Beijing is a safe city. Like in all big cities, you should never let your guard down completely but most people feel completely safe walking around the city – even in the middle of the night. According to the site safearound.com, mugging and kidnapping against foreigners are extremely rare, the risk of terrorism is very low, and the murder rate in China overall is less than half of that of the United States. This should ease at least some of your worries that you might have when letting your kids out at night in other cities around the globe.
Kids have completely different interests when it comes to meeting up with friends. But regardless of whether they catch a movie at the cinema, go shopping or go clubbing, you will soon discover that the Sanlitun area tends to be “the place to be.” It offers shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and nightlife and most nightclubs that cater to the young audience are located around the Worker’s Stadium, walking distance from Sanlitun Village. Other clubs and popular bars specializing in live music are located in the Gulou area, near the Drum and Bell towers.
Advice for parents whose kids are active in the nightlife
Drinking laws are very lax in China, and this definitely adds to some of the risks of letting your teenagers go out dancing or checking out live music around town. Make sure you talk to them about the dangers of alcohol, and that fake alcohol is fairly often served at clubs.
Make it very clear that if your child is in the same room or at the same party as someone using or selling drugs, they must leave the venue as fast as they can. Being associated with drugs can have very severe consequences in China.
Encourage your children to stay together and share transportation when they head home. WeChat also makes it extremely convenient for you to stay in touch at all times with your child and even his or her friend’s parents.
Enforce some rules around communication. A curfew is a curfew and I personally have very little tolerance for last minute WeChat messages announcing changes to the agreement. However, I do understand that it can take time to find a taxi and that that can sometimes cause delays. Also, if your child goes to a private party, ask for the names/phone numbers of the host’s parents.
Didi is China’s very own private taxi service. Didi has been a bit of a logistical life-saver for our family and we find it to be very reliable. Since we live in the city but many of our kids’ friends live near the international schools, we just send them back and forth by Didi. Personally, I have been comfortable with using this solution with my youngest since she turned 12.
My oldest is off to college in the US after the summer. He often says that he’ll miss Beijing and I know that he is thankful for having had the possibility not only to explore the city, its tastes and its art – but also to meet its people. Beijing is there to be explored and allowing teens to thrive by putting your trust in them will make the whole family’s China experience even more worthwhile.
Photo: Adobe Stock Photo
This article appeared on p58 of beijingkids July 2018 Home & Relocation Guide issue