By Amity Chandler, former DFCC Executive Director
At a recent community presentation of primarily retired individuals, I mentioned that we like to remind parents that have students at home during the summer to throw out the leftover liquor bottles from holiday celebrations. The retired individuals promptly noted that they would take those "donations," as their children were already raised and out of the home. Whether you "donate" your lingering supply to a teen-free neighbor, or simply dump it, here are some tips to navigate summer with your teen:
First, let's debunk summer. There is nothing magical about it, except that teens tend to have more free time and there is a strong correlation between free time and risk-taking among teens. This could mean riding their bike into the pool, walking through the drive-thru, or an all-nighter of the Jersey Shore. It could also mean the temptation to experiment with alcohol, marijuana or sexual activity. Short of locking them up, there is no silver bullet to prevent any of the above, and I often joke with my friends that as parents of teens, we have a 100% chance of something going awry. It does not however, have to be as a result of a lack of planning.
Plan 1. Throw out the leftover liquor bottles that are sitting around from the holiday parties. Bigger is not better in this case, and your teens weren't hatched yesterday. If they're going to experiment, it will be with the stuff you're least likely to look at or touch. This also means old prescriptions and the cigarettes you might have quit a month ago. Also consider most Florida teens say when they drink they do so at another friend's home. There is a parent somewhere that hasn't gotten the memo...it's time for us to start talking to the parents of our friends and asking direct questions, such as, does my teen have access to alcohol in your home? Worst-case scenario is you'll embarrass your teen. Let's just say it won't be the first or last time.
Plan 2. Prepare for boredom. Actually, don't fall victim to the "I'm bored" routine. Before you know it, they'll be calling you on the phone while you're at work asking to go to place A, with friend B, whom you've actually never met, but is a friend of friend C, whom you know quite well. And oh by the way, they'll be home before you get home, and they'll keep their cell phone on. Don't get me wrong, I believe most teens are inherently honest and good - I am their biggest cheerleader. But I've noticed they can smell weakness. If they can get their otherwise logical parent who normally would insist on all facts and details with 24-hour notice to budge in this one moment, the door is open for compromise. Work with your teen to make plans in advance and stick with the 24-hour notice rule for activity outside of the home. If friend B is really that important to your teen, they'll make plans within your guidelines.
Plan 3. A summer job is not a barrier to experimentation. In fact, in can be a gateway. Summer jobs are great for teaching responsibility, earning money and other life lessons. Summer jobs can also result in relationships between your teen and older, legal drinking-age individuals. Plan on talking to your teen about work relationships, new friends and your expectations of them while they are working for the summer, including curfews and work hours.
Plan 4. Plan for fun and down time. Endless surveys of teenagers show that they are often more worried, more stressed and more over-extended than any other teen generation that has come before them. Sleeping a few days away is not going to be the end of your bright-eyed sassy teenager. Hanging aimlessly at the beach with an approved list of friends may be just what they need to decompress and refocus. Plan in advance for ways that you and your teenager can do just that - relax.
There is no need for summer vacation to be any more onerous than any other period should be while raising teens. At the end of the day, we're still a parent, and they're still a teenager. Have a safe, well-planned summer.