Dr. Wes: Every year someone asks us to write about spring break. It's usually a teen wanting tips on how to get parents to approve a trip with friends to Padre or a parent worrying about such a request. Usually those questions have arrived too late to make any impact. This year we've decided to jump the gun and give families something to debate well in advance of spring break planning time.
While they might ask, most everyone agrees that teens 16 and under should not be attending unescorted spring break trips. To do so is begging for legal and psychological trauma. The real point of argument comes for 17- and 18-year-olds still living at home and attending high school. I'd invite debate on this, but I think it's generally a bad idea to allow 17-year-olds to go to spring break hot spots like Panama City or Fort Lauderdale. For several weeks in March, those destinations are spelled P-A-R-T-Y, and there is no reason to go there if you aren't intending to join in. A thousand miles from home, those parties can lead to a variety of mishaps. I'm not at liberty to share horror stories in this column, but I have a boatload of them.
For 18-year-olds, the problem is stickier. Frankly, I don't think two to three months of maturity and an arbitrary birthday make 18-year-olds any more responsible than their 17-year-old counterparts. After all, the drinking age is still 21. However, at 18 the only real challenge parents can level is "not while you're living under my roof," and this only inflames rebellion and disagreement at a time when there are a lot more important issues to address. While I wouldn't pay for or support such a trip, parents of 18-year-olds have to take a step back in deference to their child's age of majority. I would, however, urge them to have clear but nonhysterical talk with their teen about adulthood. The world gets a lot more serious after 18, even if the teen doesn't. That point should be made before dropping them off at the airport.
Before reaching that point, there are several ways to negotiate them out of spring break disaster. Each has worked for families I know:
¢ Redirect solo teens to a non-spring break destination. There are plenty of beaches that don't draw wild crowds, and a lot of fun non-resort destinations (Orlando, Dallas, San Francisco, etc.). They can still find trouble if they really want to, but at least it won't be staring them in the face 24/7
¢ Escort your teens to Spring Break USA. I have seen groups of parents band together and make the trip with their teens, providing the same level of supervision they would in Lawrence. On more than one occasion, this has saved the day when things went wrong.
¢ Set up a group cruise. There is a lot to do on cruise ships, and if you can get a group of teens and families organized, this can be a good alternative. It also allows fairly close supervision if parents desire.
¢ Take the family dream trip. If your teen has been dying to go Paris, New York, LA or Detroit, this is the time to do it. You can throw in a best friend or boy/girlfriend to sweeten the pot. I recently had a young adult tell me that her parents used this technique every year and each was memorable.
If your teen is reluctant to go for these ideas, simply point out that you are willing to PAY for one of these trips. Money talks. Even 18-year-olds may be willing to delay their newfound freedom if the alternative is good enough and costs them nothing.
John: If a friend asked to borrow your brand-new Ferrari for a week in Panama City Beach, you would probably ask a lot of questions. Likewise, parents ought to be very cautious before allowing their children out of sight. They need to have a certain level of trust in the chaperone, with more confidence required for faraway destinations. A clear plan is a must whenever teens are away from parents, including where they are going, what they are doing and how late they will stay out. When traveling, everything that can go wrong usually does, and it is important to be prepared for all circumstances.
Always respect the laws of this country. Some parents approve of "supervised drinking," but I feel this attitude is grievously misguided. Teenagers' brains are much more sensitive to alcohol than those of 21-year-olds. If a teen has a predisposition to alcohol, he easily can be overwhelmed by the intoxicating effect. Besides, teenagers need to learn that it is important to respect laws they don't agree with, and allowing them to drink alcohol would send the wrong message.
Students interested in improving their karma should look into alternative spring breaks. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity allow students to serve their country in interesting places. This year, hoards of students traveled to New Orleans, where they assisted in rebuilding and restoring the hurricane-ravaged city.
Let's also remember that most teens will not have the opportunity for independent travel during spring break. If teens find themselves stuck at home, there are ample opportunities for fun and socialization. Try throwing a theme party or visiting a recreation center. It might sound dorky, but I've enjoyed some crazy nights playing board games until 10:30 at night. Like mischief, opportunities for entertainment will be present wherever you go, be it the beaches of the East Coast or the plains east Kansas.
Next week: A chat participant asks Dr. Wes and John for their list of the top three reasons for family strife in 2006.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. John Murray is a Free State High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.