published Sunday, March 18th, 2012

First Things First: A parental primer for spring break

Julie Baumgardner

Your teen pleads her case for going on spring break with friends. As she tells you how safe and well-behaved they will be, a caution light blinks in the recesses of your brain.

But you remember the fun you had on spring breaks. Ignoring the caution light, you give her permission and feel pretty good about it because she is level-headed and mature beyond her years.

This is an advertisement from a resort meant to entice your teens for spring break:

"Our day parties are, in one word, ridiculous. We'll bring the party with a DJ, hot music and an [emcee] to host your favorite off-the-chain spring break contests, from bikini contests and tug-of-wars to beach Olympics and beer pong .... win prizes like VIP bottle service, restaurant gift certificates, backpacks, T-shirts and more!"

Sounds relatively innocent, but your teen knows this means lots of drinking and sex. As one teen said, "Everybody gets drunk, and you end up sleeping with a different guy each night."

Research shows the following about spring break students:

• The average male reported consuming 18 drinks per day, the average female 10 drinks per day.

• Of 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.

A 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."

You are probably thinking, "Yeah, right, but not my teen." Think again.

An October 2011 National Geographic article, "Beautiful Brains," explains that there is never a time in life that we value the thrill of new and exciting things more than the teen years. They call it sensation seeking: the hunt for the neural buzz, the jolt of the unusual or unexpected.

Risk-taking peaks during adolescence. Instead of making decisions based on logic and wisdom, teens are first likely to consider what their peers think.

Not being accepted is a threat to their existence. Scientists found that while a teen might make good choices when alone, add friends to the mix, and he or she is more likely to take risks.

Is your teen ready for an unsupervised spring break? If so, help him be as prepared as possible by discussing:

• The itinerary and where he is staying.

• Clear expectations and consequences for breaking the rules.

• How to protect yourself: Awareness of date rape drugs (Rule No. 1: Always get your own drinks), the risks of drug use and drinking, violence, sexual assault and sexually transmitted diseases.

• Laws that apply at their spring break destination.

By laying this foundation, you are helping to ensure the memories your teen makes this spring break are ones that he or she wants to remember.

Email Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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