It is hard to believe spring break is upon us. If you have teens or college-age adults, you've probably had ongoing conversations about how they will spend their break.
As kids try to get permission and money for the trip, you'll hear phrases like: "I'm almost an adult. This is a rite of passage." Or: "It's what college students do. We go to the beach and hang out."
The pressure is on for sure.
Before giving in to that pressure, here is what research shows about spring break students:
* The average male reported drinking 18 drinks per day, 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.
* 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 has become so much of an issue, the police departments in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala., have taken precautionary measures to avoid problems. The cities have posted open letters on Facebook to those planning to spend spring break there.
"We have said it before, but just so we are clear," says one of the letters, "if your top priorities when visiting the beach are being drunk and disorderly; breaking what you consider to be small rules like underage drinking, littering and leaving glass on the beach, urinating in public, using drugs, or engaging in violent or indecent behavior, Gulf Shores is definitely not the place for you."
Before you assume this is not an issue with your child, it's helpful to remember that risk-taking peaks during adolescence. Instead of weighing risks based on logic and wisdom, teens are more likely to consider how their choices will impact their relationships.
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:
* 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.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at email@example.com.