published Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Baumgardner: What happens on spring break ...

By Julie Baumgardner

"What happens on spring break stays on spring break."

At least that's what a lot of young people believe. This is a rite of passage and their opportunity to do things they wouldn't normally do -- or do them to a more extreme level.

Before you say, "Not my kid" or "What's the big deal?" the reality is what happens on spring break can impact a teen for life.

Anybody, especially young people, can be persuaded to do things they wouldn't normally agree to when in a group. If your teen finds himself in this situation without the presence of mind to know danger is lurking, the consequences could be disastrous.

Thousands of teens will storm the beaches in Florida and other exotic locations next month. Many think of themselves as almost-adults, not in need of adult supervision. However, if you consider that the prefrontal cortex of the brain, a section of the brain that weighs outcomes, forms judgments and controls impulses and emotions, typically is not fully developed until the mid-20s, sending your teen off unsupervised with a bunch of other teens might not be a great idea.

Teenagers are notorious for believing they are invincible. It is easy to make a decision that could negatively impact the rest of their life while under the influence of peer pressure, away from parental authority. If you allow your teen to participate in spring break activities that don't include you, do your part to prepare them to be responsible and to understand the consequences if they aren't.

Ask yourself:

• Are they mature enough to handle the temptations? If not, perhaps an alternative spring break plan is the answer.

• Be specific about your expectations. When it comes to alcohol, drugs, driving, riding on the exterior of a car, etc., all it takes is one dumb decision for lives to be changed forever.

• Know the law. Florida has a zero-tolerance law for drivers under 21. Any driver under 21 caught with a blood alcohol level of 0.02 or higher will automatically have their driver's license suspended for six months. The 0.02 limit really means that you cannot have a single drink and drive.

• Be clear about the risks. Date rape, robbery, sexual activity, alcohol, sun poisoning and predators looking to exploit beautiful young girls are all things your teen could potentially encounter. Talk with them about how to handle these situations.

• Make a communication plan. Get the name and address of the place where your teen is staying. Make a list with additional emergency numbers and information for them to keep on their phone or in their wallet. Specific plans concerning checking in with you should be discussed as well.

As parents, we are responsible for our teens until they turn 18. Don't be afraid to be the parent your teen needs you to be -- whether they like it or not.

Contact at julieb@firstthings.org.

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