Is Your Teen's Spring Break Becoming High-Risk?

10 Ways Parents Can Keep Teens Safe on Trips

by Dr. James G. Wellborn

Any time you take teens on a spring break or let them go on a trip where there is at least one other teenager, it qualifies for a high-risk spring break. Imagine how bad it can get when there are a bunch of teenagers and college kids crammed on a beach, snowboarding down the slopes or wake boarding on the lake. So does that mean you should only travel to a secluded island? Stay home? (It would save you a lot of money). 

If you are crazy enough to take your kids on a risky spring break, here are a couple of things you might want to address to try to head off potential problems. 

Express appropriate gratitude. A spring break trip is a privilege. It is costing someone money to make all this happen. Even if your kid is paying for their part, someone else had to cover their living expenses so they could save the money. Make sure they appreciate this opportunity -- “This could be a really fun trip, but I’m not quite sure you are ready for this responsibility. Maybe I should just work and have your grandparents come over to watch you for the week.” 

Review the rules. Gather the family to discuss the rules for the trip. Go over requirements for checking in, being safe, spending time with the family and what happens if they break the rules. Require your kids to give their word that they will follow the rules. Take this opportunity for them to review their own personal moral code; right and wrong, alcohol and drugs, sexual behavior. This will come in handy later as you discuss integrity and morality while punishing them for breaking the rules.  

RELATED  Talking to Your Spring-Breaker About Binge Drinking

Checking in. You are asking for trouble if teens younger than high school senior-age are given much free rein during spring break. All younger teens will be desperate to be part of the college crowd, with potentially disastrous results. Middle school kids should not be out of sight of a responsible adult for longer than an hour. They shouldn’t be out at night without constant adult supervision. Young teens (ages14 to 16) should physically check in (they come to you or you go to them) every two to three hours. Legal curfews (from home) should be imposed for night-time wandering. Teens of all ages should only be in populated areas—not exploring in the sea grass back off the beach.

Safety plans. Review basic safety rules. Don’t go off with someone you don’t know. Stay in populated areas. Don’t take shortcuts in areas you don’t know well (like anywhere on vacation). Don’t change locations without making sure someone knows where you are going. Avoid stairwells and dark, isolated places. Test them on their safety judgment by creating potentially risky situations and requiring them to come up with appropriate responses. They should also be able to determine if things are potentially dangerous or getting bad. When should they leave a group? When should they worry about someone they just met?

Swim buddy. As importantly, your teen should never go anywhere alone. Groups of three or more teens exploring together and watching out for each other are preferable. This allows one kid to back up the other while the third runs for help. They must all agree to stay together, no matter what. Everyone will be punished if one of them messes up. They sink or swim together, so to speak.

Refusal skills. A surprising number of teens end up in trouble because they lack the skills to refuse invitations or pressure -- “I couldn’t say no. I’d look like a loser.” Take some time with your kid to figure out ways they can sidestep things that make them uncomfortable like sneaking out, illegal behavior, or potentially dangerous situations—as well as pressure to use alcohol or drugs or engage in sexual behavior. 

RELATED What To Do If You Catch Your Kid Drinking

Family time. It’s a family vacation; family time is a requirement. Think about board games and beach games (throwing, tossing, flinging objects at each other, kite-flying, boogie-boarding, body-surfing, sand castles, etc.). Have at least one meal a day together. Take at least one sunrise and one sunset walk along the beach as a family.

Cost of trouble. And if they break your rules? Mild infractions should lead to constant supervision for four hours during the next prime time (early afternoon, right around dark). This means shadowing you as you do activities that are interesting to you. Make sure the activities are excruciating to them (shopping for beach cover-ups or jewelry, reading, putting sun tan lotion on you while you are lying in the sun in full view of everyone on the beach, wearing embarrassing swimming attire while you go out in public with them, etc.). Major violations like drinking or drug use, sneaking out at night, or major personal safety violations—or anything that results in police involvement—should result in 24/7 supervision for the remainder of the trip or being sent home. The curtailment of privileges should continue when you return home for at least a week. They will need to be protected from their own bad judg­ment, even at home.

Take some time to put the pieces in place so that high-risk spring breaks can be a wonderful luxury rather than a horrible disaster. Good luck! 

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Dr. James G. Wellborn is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Brentwood, Tennessee focusing on adolescents and families.  He is the author of the book Raising Teens in the 21st Century: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting where strategies for addressing school breaks, spring breaks, high risk spring breaks, summer breaks, summer planning and vacations are included among the 79 chapters on typical teenage issues.  You can learn more about Dr. Wellborn or sign up for his monthly newsletter on parenting teens by visiting his website at www.DrJamesWellborn.com.

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