Spring break. Whether it be a beach vacation, a ski trip, a visit to a nearby city or a trip abroad, the options are endless. By indulging in some much-needed relaxation, we often forget that some dangers come with travel, especially on spring break. As a parent of three teenagers, I sought out advice on avoiding spring break pitfalls, and today I’m sharing what I learned, as well as few tips from friends (whose names shall stay anonymous) and some advice I’ve picked up over the years.
College Environment = College Activity
“Gatorade hides vodka very well. We learned that the hard way.”
— Atlanta mom of two teens
“Vodka and Gatorade. Learned from college students.”
– Nashville mom on a tip she learned while at the beach
Know that high school and college spring breaks may overlap, which means ample opportunities present themselves that entice younger kids to behave older than they are. Fran Stewart, Director of the Junior School at Montgomery Bell Academy says, “If you put kids in a college environment, expect college activity.” She advises parents to set their expectations beforehand and then again each day, making sure there is some supervision throughout the day. Basically, if you send your kids out at 10 a.m. and tell them to be back at 9 p.m., they likely will encounter some situations that you weren’t anticipating. Setting boundaries, just like at home, is needed; be upfront and proactive with what these boundaries are.
“When I found out later that day what my son had been exposed to while hanging out with his friends, I was horrified. I hadn’t prepared him, and I just hadn’t thought it through. Our beach was filled with families and lots of teenagers, but I just had no idea what was going on out of sight … and apparently in plain sight as well.”
– Birmingham mom of a 14-year-old boy
About 10 years ago, a friend of mine had just experienced her first spring break at a popular beach destination. She was with her three children; her oldest was 14. She was horrified by what she found out was going on. A couple of days after being back home, she was sitting next to another mom, who had a daughter in the same class as her oldest son. The other mom assumed my friend had had a great time and said something along the lines of, “Isn’t it just the best? You can relax and hang out with your friends because so many other parents from school are there, too. And, the kids all have fun and can stay out so late, go to the beach, and they are safe!” Meanwhile my friend was thinking Your daughter was drunk every day, and she had sex with three boys, and all these kids are just 14 … and you have no idea!
My friend did not go back to the beach, and it’s worth noting that she didn’t divulge who the mom and daughter are, and I did not ask, which leads me to another tip: As a parent you may see and hear about some things that you feel the need to warn others about (like my friend did for me). If that is the point of repeating something, with the intention of warning (like I did here today), by all means do so. But don’t use names. We’re all in this game of life together, and we need all the help and information we can get. But, these are kids, who may have made some poor decisions — using names turns a warning into gossip. And, since my friend obviously did not witness this girl having sex, or being drunk every day, her information was at best secondhand. Remember rumors run rampant and remind kids of this as well.
And if the beach you go to doesn’t have lots of college kids, don’t think that these things don’t take place. Some of the most unfortunate stories come from the most family-friendly spring break destinations. Lauren Dressback, Assistant Principal at Vestavia Hills High School in Birmingham, AL, says, “Many of us live in our own bubble. You go on spring break, and you think you’re still in your bubble, but you are not. This sense of safety and familiarity opens the door for some things to happen.” An example is the lucrative side of selling liquor and drugs to teens during spring break, and it’s easy to find these things even when they’re not being actively sought out. Suddenly temptation is there, no parents are around … so why not try?
“The beach may be closed at night, but everyone just jumps the fence. My gosh, after the sun goes down, it’s like Night of the Living Dead … all these kids, one after another, climbing over the fence. They just keep coming, stumbling across the sand …”
— Nashville mom of two teens remembering her last spring break trip to a popular beach
Does this mean that everyone has this experience? Of course not! The beach is fun, and having friends from your hometown there can make it even more so. But parents need to remember to set expectations for their kids, provide some supervision (even if it’s intermittent and unscheduled) and be smart. Check in with your kids. Set structure, boundaries and talk.
Travel Smarts and Safety
From his experience as Dean of the High School at Montgomery Bell Academy, Will Norton states that the most potentially catastrophic aspects of spring break are issues with travel and activity safety. “Biking, mopeds, international travel safety … this is where the most devastating and catastrophic events occur,” he shares. “The driving environment in other countries can be vastly different than here. Imagine driving a moped in that traffic or not looking the proper way when you cross a street in England … Riding a bike at top speed when you normally don’t, and you aren’t wearing a helmet in a beach community … These types of instances, even parasailing, skiing, sailing — this is where the most potentially fatal dangers lie.”
Will advises that if you are traveling for spring break, talk about what excursions you are comfortable taking before you arrive, and don’t let safety measures that are musts at home go by the wayside on vacation. Helmets are still needed on bikes. Maybe vacation isn’t the best place to try out mopeds for the first time if you have inexperienced drivers. If you are traveling to a place like England, where the traffic patterns are the complete opposite of what you’re familiar with, be vigilant with traveling companions to ensure that everyone is being mindful of the differences.
Fran Stewart explains that just because your kids go to school together doesn’t mean that other parents have the same rules and expectations that you have. If your child is going on vacation with a friend, talk about your expectations with both your child and the other family beforehand. What activities will they be doing? Will there be supervision? What are the expectations for behavior? These conversations may be uncomfortable on the front end, but they needn’t be; they ensure that everyone is on the same page for the safety of your children.
With international trips, remember to check where you can and can’t drink water. And always check your water bottles. “Beware of drinking out of water bottles in Cancun that already have the seal broken. Turns out ours were being filled up by a hose in back of the hotel,” says one Atlanta friend, whose experience is one she wants to warn others about. Accidentally drinking water that our bodies can’t tolerate will ruin your vacation. Be vigilant (do not even use the water to brush your teeth!).
I’ll add one more travel tip that deals with the beach: undertows are serious. I know three people who have been caught in undertows in the past five years. One, an adult man, and another, a tween whose mom was pulled out with him. Go over what to do with your family and friends if swept up in an undertow, and give yourself a refresher as well. Here’s a good crash course with illustrations.
Social Media Safety (For Parents and Kids)
Lauren Dressback works hard to get the message out to her school families that social media situations often arise during spring break. “You’re not thinking in normal mode because you’re not in normal mode, which can lead to poor decisions … caution is often thrown to the wind, and you get that courage that comes from being behind a screen. People type things out that they would not normally actually say, and this leads to other situations.”
Lauren wants kids to know these social media updates follow them. Unlike in their parents’ era, everything is documented today, and social media sticks around. Snapchats don’t really disappear, so all those photos with alcohol in them or the ones with provocative poses? These actually may harm students when going on future job interviews, through the college admissions process or, for those who wish to participate, during fraternity or sorority recruitment.
And parents, the warnings aren’t just for kids. Police professionals want you to remember that every picture you post about where you are during spring break is a beacon to others that your house is sitting empty. You may think that only your dear friends are seeing these updates, but most likely your settings aren’t as locked down as you think they are. And for your son and daughter with all the followers? They all know you are out of town as well! Perhaps snap the pics on vacation, but wait to post them until you’re back home, which is something I am pretty bad about remembering as well.
Have a great spring break, but be safe!
Need ideas for great travel destinations? Check out our travel archives and plan your next adventure!