Sue Scheff: Spring Break is Around the Corner!

This can be the time of year that parents can cringe or actually take the time to help your teen plan a "safe" spring break.  This is a must read article about learning to keep your teens safe and helping them make good decisions!

Source: Connect with Kids

Spring Break

They end up being characters of themselves. [They] give up being the actual person that they are; they're 'The Kid on Spring Break.'”

– Robert Simmerman, Ph.D., Psychologist

With spring break just a few weeks away, hundreds of thousands of high school and college kids across the country are planning on a big trip to a warm destination to be with their friends.

If you're the parent of a junior or a senior in high school, do you let your child go?

The answer to that question gets even tougher when you listen to what spring break means to teenagers.

"Binge Drinking"

"People on balconies taking their clothes off; kids getting drunk on the beach"

"Yeah, you do get drunk; there is underage drinking and stuff."

But experts say that spring break can also be a final testing ground for a high school senior to show self-restraint and maturity.

"People expect you to go crazy on spring break and like to hear stories about what you've done ... but most people, I don't think so," 17-year-old Laura says.

"I think that if you use good judgment at home, you're probably going to use good judgment when you're out somewhere foreign to you," adds Maltby, 18.

Can your kids handle the risks involved?

Experts say that part of the answer depends on how much practice they've had when they were young.

Sleepovers, concerts and parties are all opportunities for children to learn to act responsibly among their peers.

"Where they have to use this judgment not for a four-day period, but for a four-hour period," says Dr. Robert Simmerman, a psychologist.

He says that if you let them take a trip for spring break, find out who's going and where they're staying. Then, make sure that you talk about limits.

"You know what I'd do? I'd bring all the peers together that were going to go and I'd have a group discussion, with the peers and the parents, that way the likelihood of somebody keeping their head and because what we know about adolescence is it's peers that have the most influence," Dr. Simmerman says.

Still, traveling teens will be put to the test facing risks like underage drinking, sex and accidents.

So parents do have another alternative: Say no.

"Adolescents depend upon us as parents to set the limits so that they don't have to. But yet, they can still complain about it – 'My dad's unreasonable; he's not going to let me go to Florida with a bunch of strangers and drink and swim and jump off balconies.' So be it," Dr. Simmerman says.

Spring break is a time-honored tradition for many high school and college students, one that involves wild parties, lots of flirting and, yes, even sex. But over the last several years, tales of alcohol poisoning, illegal drug use, injuries, rape and death during students' weeklong getaways have become common news headlines. A large proportion of these incidents actually occur in foreign cities.

While these stories are tragic, they are part of a harsh reality that grows worse as more students travel overseas for spring break. The situation, however, is not out of parents' control. Experts agree that first and foremost, parents need to establish an early habit of monitoring their children – waiting until the teen years will most likely result in a power struggle between parent and teen. The National Network for Child Care says that monitoring your teen involves being able to answer the following questions at all times:

■With whom is your teen spending time?
■Where is your teen?
■In what kinds of activities is your teen participating?
■When will your teen return and how will he or she get home?

As soon as this practice becomes habit, monitoring can serve as a foundation for an open and trusting relationship between you and your teen. All adolescents will try new experiences and even make some mistakes. That is why your job as a parent is to provide guidance and support so that your teen will make good decisions. The experts at Healthy Parenting Today suggest keeping these monitoring strategies in mind as a means of teaching your teen to be responsible for his or her actions:

■Talk with your teen. Monitoring means being involved in your teen's life, and it includes being an interested, active listener. Just by listening to the accounts of your adolescent's day, you can show him or her that you genuinely care about what happens to him or her.
■Manage your teen's freedom. Your adolescent should earn his or her right to more freedom. With freedom comes the responsibility to endure the consequences of choices. As your teen demonstrates responsibility at one level of freedom, you can help him or her move to the next level by giving a little more freedom.
■Set clear guidelines. Even though your teen can handle more responsibility than younger children, he or she still needs some boundaries and limits. It is important that your teen knows exactly what is expected of him or her. After discussing the rules, you may even want to write them down to avoid discrepancy over what was said.
■Stay in touch with your teen. If your teen is supposed to be home at a certain time, plan to be home at the same time. If you can't be there, call to check on him or her or have a trusted neighbor check. Unsupervised adolescents are less likely to get into trouble if parents keep in touch with them.
■Set a good example. When you go out, let your teen know where you are going, how long you'll be gone and a number where he or she may reach you. This provides an excellent role model of considerate behavior.
■Meet your teen's friends. Much of your teen's behavior will be influenced by his or her peer group. Studies have shown that adolescents who have a lot of unsupervised time on their hands are at risk for developing deviant peer groups. Under the influence of deviant peers, your teen could develop a variety of problem behaviors. Get to know your teen's friends; better yet, get to know the parents of your teen's friends. Both are a valuable source of information.

Tips for Parents

The key to more peace of mind is to stay informed. This involves establishing a habit of honest communication with your child, preferably before he or she enters the teen years. Experts say that young children turn to their parents first for advice and guidance, but once they reach adolescence, they tend to rely on friends or other outsiders and the media for information. That is why it is important that you talk to your child about serious issues first, before he or she can become confused from incorrect information. Children Now and the Kaiser Family Foundation offer the following tips for keeping the lines of communication open between you and your teen:

■Start early by discussing tough issues, including sexuality, violence and drug use.
■Initiate conversations with your child.
■Create an open environment for conversation.
■Communicate your own values.
■Listen to your child.
■Try to be honest.
■Be patient.
■Use everyday opportunities to talk.
■Talk about issues again and again.
If you decide to allow your teen to take a trip with friends during spring break, consider sharing the following information and tips in order to prepare him or her for the tough issues that he or she may face:

Drinking: Binge drinking is the major culprit in alcohol poisoning. It also increases the risk of car accidents and arrests for violations, such as drunken driving, public intoxication and property destruction. The best advice to give your teen is not to drink. If your teen does decide to drink (and most will) or is of legal drinking age, Be Responsible About Drinking, Inc., recommends sharing the following advice:

■Drink only if YOU want to – don't let others dictate your choice.
■Decide in advance what and how much you will drink.
■Plan how you will refuse once you reach your limit.
■Know what will happen if you violate state or local laws.
■Use a designated driver or choose public transportation.
Sex and Violence: A University of Wisconsin study revealed that women with a higher alcohol consumption were more likely to have been the victim of a sexual assault. Regardless of gender, teach your teen to take the following precautions:

■Don't drink too much. Drinking makes it easier for a person to become either the victim or the perpetrator of a sexual assault.
■Don't allow yourself to be taken to an isolated location.
■Use the buddy system. Don't walk alone. Attend large parties with friends and leave with the same friends.
■Watch out for "rape" drugs. Don't leave a drink unattended. Don't accept open drinks from strangers. If you start feeling odd, put the buddy system into action.
Travel Scams: According to the American Society of Travel Agents and the College Parents of America, charter flight delays, hotel over-bookings and non-delivery of services are common problems. Prepare your teen by sharing these tips:

■Be skeptical about solicitations that sound too good to be true.
■Research the travel company and don't give out credit card numbers until you are sure the business is reputable.
■Get complete details in writing about any trip prior to payment.
Traveling Abroad: In the last several years, foreign tourism officials have been luring thousands of American students to Mexico, Europe and the Caribbean for spring break tours. Due to more lenient laws than those found in the United States, students 18 and older have the opportunity to drink and even take drugs overseas without breaking the law. It is important to know, however, that these foreign nations have laws and customs that could lead to a student waiting in jail for up to a year before trial for drug trafficking or other crimes. Before embarking on a vacation, have your teen research the following information:

■Contact the foreign country's consular office or visit the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
■Check the country's entry and exit requirements, and take extra copies of travel documents (driver's license, passport, birth certificate, etc.).
■Review U.S. State Department travel warnings, which detail crime and health risks.
References
■American Society of Travel Agents
■Be Responsible About Drinking, Inc.
■Children Now
■College Parents of America
■Healthy Parenting Today
■Kaiser Family Foundation
■National Network for Child Care
■University of Wisconsin
■USA Today

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