Should you let your teen go on Spring Break unsupervised?
It may still be cold outside, but if you are the parent of a teenager, you have probably already heard your teen talk about Spring Break plans. If you’re lucky, your teen wants to relax at home and hang out with friends. If you’re not so lucky, your teen has already asked if they can go with their friends – unsupervised – to some vacation destination, like Florida or Cancun, for the week. And, so begins the internal war for the parent – you know it’s not a good idea after hearing about violent crime, drinking, sex, and accidents during these Spring Break getaways, but your teen is making you feel like an overprotective, no-fun scrooge. Should you support their independence or risk their angry silence and sulking?
Many times, questions parents ask end with an “it depends” or “the jury is out” answer. But, in this instance, the experts are pretty clear. Unsupervised Spring Break vacations with friends are not a good idea for a teen. (And, do not be fooled – organized Spring Break tour packages do NOT chaperone those attending.)
What risks does your teen face if he or she ventures to one of these Spring Break destinations?
Health and safety experts say there are plenty of reasons you shouldn’t let your teen engage in Spring Break festivities. For example, a study conducted by the American Medical Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2006 found that girls (teens and college age) on Spring Break trips had an alarming tendency to binge on alcohol and engage in high-risk sexual activity. Of those interviewed, 90% said that alcohol was easy to obtain during Spring Break, and 83% said that drinking heavily was a big part of the fun. One in five had sexual experiences during Spring Break that they later regretted.
But, it’s not only young women who engage in risky behavior on spring break. In 2010, two teen boys (in separate incidents) fell to their deaths from hotel balconies after drinking alcohol. The expected behavior in Daytona, and other Spring Break destinations is wild, uncontrolled, and inappropriate. Sending teenagers, who do not have the judgment skills and who fall victim to peer pressure, into a den of rowdy behavior is just asking for trouble.
The Journal of American College Health reported that during Spring Break, the average male reported drinking 18 drinks per day and the average female reported 10 drinks per day. About half drank until they got sick or passed out at least once. Last year, during the Spring Break season in Panama City and Daytona alone, police confiscated 20,000 fake IDs and made 2,000 arrests of individuals age 15-21. In Florida, if an underage drinker is caught, they will be charged with a misdemeanor and must appear in court, which could take up to 30 days. If under 18, the youth will be held until a parent comes for them.
Complaints from parents who did not heed the advice to keep their teens away from Spring Break destinations include: alcohol poisoning, arrests, injuries, and rape. These trips are simply not safe. Even parents who went with their teens to Spring Break and supervised them expressed regret. One parent described the trip as, “a melting pot of drugs, drinking, sex, and nudity. On our trip, watching preteen girls playing beer bong with college aged boys was common place. Clearly underage kids were partaking in drinking games all over the beach. Kids were smoking weed out in the open, and girls were flashing body parts, and all this was happening during the day, as early as 10am. You can only imagine what the evenings were like once these kids had over-indulged and become completely belligerent and promiscuous.”
But if you refuse spring break, how do you deal with your sulky teen?
When you deliver the news that you will not allow them to travel with their friends, do not expect your teen to say, “No problem, Mom and Dad, I know you’re just looking out for my best interests.” Your teen will be angry and will argue with you. Your teen will sulk, call you names like overprotective and old-fashioned, and present many reasons why they should be allowed to go. One common reason teens use is “everyone else is doing it” and another is “you won’t be able to supervise me when I’m in college.” You do not need to justify yourself. Simply say that, as a responsible parent, you are ensuring his/her safety until they are a little more mature. This is not a trust issue – even the most trustworthy teen does not have the maturity to responsibly handle an environment that will so severely test their self-control.
Experts suggest offering some alternatives to the drunken Spring Break vacations. Perhaps you can take the entire family on a fun vacation. Another option is to take your teen and a friend or two to a safer destination – it’s still with friends, but you’re supervising in a safer location. In fact, if you talk to the parents of your teen’s friends, you might find them as reluctant as you are. Talking together, you might be able to feel more confident in your decision and more able to offer an acceptable alternative.
Another possibility is to encourage your teen to spend Spring Break doing something to help make the world a better place. In Atlanta, Ga., for example, several high schools set up programs in which teens could spend their vacations on well-supervised humanitarian missions where they did everything from help elderly people in Appalachia to work in Haitian orphanages. They can still go with friends and without parents, but they will be on a safe adventure that will allow them to make a positive difference in the world.
Do NOT allow your teen to visit a Spring Break vacation destination unsupervised. Teens may be very responsible and quite levelheaded but they still can be placed in a risky situation for which they are unprepared. When teens are faced with peer pressure, it is sometimes difficult to make the best decisions. When there is alcohol and drug use, there is always the increased danger of violence, sexual activity and physical accidents. Keep your teen safe and offer them other alternatives.