It is hard to believe spring break 2017 is upon us. If you have adolescents or teens, you've probably had ongoing conversations about how they will spend their break. If you are a parent of a middle or high school student who will be away with friends on spring break or even if they are home alone, there are some things you need to know to keep your child safe and drug-free.
As kids try to get permission and money for trips, you'll hear phrases like: "Everybody is going. This is a rite of passage." Or: "I'm almost in college--this is what college kids do." "The drinking age is 18 there."
The pressure is on for sure.
- The average male reported drinking 18 drinks per day during springbreak, compared to 10 drinks for the average female.
- Of the 783 young people surveyed, more than 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women said they drank until they became sick or passed out at least once.
- Research shows that unsupervised youth are three times more likely to engage in risky behaviors like smoking, drinking and using other drugs.
- The U.S. Department of State fact sheet on "Spring Break in Cancun" states: "Alcohol is involved in the vast majority of arrests, accidents, violent crimes and deaths suffered by American tourists in Cancun."
This spring break will undoubtedly be a season of "firsts" for teens and pre-teens beginning with their first experience being without an adult for an extended period of time on some days. Other significant "firsts" can include:
- Everyday, 8,000 kids take their first drink of alcohol.
- Everyday, 8,000 kids use an illicit drug for the first time.
- Everyday, 6,000 kids smoke marijuana for the first time.
- And everyday, 2,000 kids try their first prescription painkiller (for non-medical purposes).
These firsts are much more likely to happen under little or no supervision. Taking steps to avoid these dangers is prudent, but more importantly, establishing clear and open lines of communication is key.
Scientists found that, while a teen might make good choices when he is alone, adding friends to the mix makes him more likely to take risks for the reward of relationship instead of considering the cost. Even if your teen generally makes great decisions, getting together with hundreds of other spring breakers can make it seem like the rewards of risk-taking outweigh any future consequences.
If your goal is for your spring breaker to be safe, here are a few things to consider:
- It goes without saying that safeguarding all of your over-the-counter and prescription medications is a must.
- Lock the liquor cabinet and make any other alcohol inaccessible.
- Clearly communicate your expectations regarding smoking, drinking and using other drugs (Children whose parents talk to them often about not using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs are 50% less likely to use in the first place).
- Set rules as to which friends (if any) are allowed over while you’re gone, as well as which friends’ houses your child may visit.
- Know where your child is and whom he/she is with at all times.
- Even if they don't like the idea, you may decide to go along if you feel they aren't ready to go alone. It doesn't mean you have to constantly hover over them. Checking in regularly with an adult can decrease the potential for poor decision-making.
- Help unsupervised teens and young adults prepare well. Discuss their plans and where they are staying. Establish clear expectations about everything from social media posts and location check-in to communicating with you by phone at designated times.
- Address the dangers of underage drinking, meeting up with strangers and the potential consequences — legal and otherwise — for poor choices. They also need to know how to protect themselves from sexual assault, date- rape drugs and the like.
Ultimately, the goal is to keep your child, and those around your child, safe over spring break. We all know that one irresponsible decision or crazy post on social media can change the trajectory of a young person's life.
Most of us would probably agree about one thing: It's better to be very clear about the expectations and leave no stone unturned than to wish we had said something.
Don't be afraid to be "that parent" who encourages new experiences, knowing that a strong foundation can help them make the most of their opportunities.
Supervision, at this age, is less about holding your child’s hand and hovering over their shoulder and more about taking certain precautions, setting clear expectations and arming your child with the knowledge and information to make smart and healthy lifestyle choices.
Have fun, stay safe. See you after Spring Break!