Parents and their teenagers often have differing opinions when it comes to spring break, especially regarding travel plans and safety. A pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine offers tips on how parents can decide which situations are best for their teens.
"I think a lot of parents and teens feel pressure at spring break time and this can be a difficult topic to tackle when you do not agree," said Dr. Sara Rizvi, assistant professor of pediatrics at BCM and Texas Children's Hospital. "It is not always easy saying no to a teen's requested spring break travel plans, but sometimes it is not in their best interests and it has to be said."
Rizvi said it is important for parents to remember that teens are exceptionally vulnerable to peer pressure and during spring break they may find themselves in circumstances where their judgment may be poor.
Isn't a chaperone enough?
The presence of chaperones is often thought of as a selling point for teens going on spring break or other trips, but parents should be aware that this is not always enough to guarantee safety. This is especially true in situations far from home or out of the country.
It's extremely hard for one, or even several adults, to continually monitor a large group of teens traveling in an unfamiliar area, she said. "There have been a number of high-profile cases of missing teens or tragic injuries involving trips where there was an adult chaperone and everyone assumed they would be safe."
It's important that the chaperone-to-teen ratio should be very low, allowing each teen to have personal attention, and there should be no time which is unaccounted for or unsupervised. Parents should meet chaperones and discuss supervision or they can also consider going along on the trip as a chaperone themselves.
Know who, what, when and where
"Parents should also carefully weigh other details about any trip their teen is considering – Who will they go with and who will supervise? What will the daytime and evening schedules be? When will their teen check in with home and with their chaperones? Where will they be staying and is it a safe environment?
"Parents should have adequate means of contacting their teen at all times and checking in at the evening is a good idea. Having a clear itinerary and contact numbers for each part of the trip is extremely important," said Rizvi. "Getting this information well in advance may help reduce any stress and anxiety the parent may have about their teen's safety."
Talk about drinking
Do not assume your teen has not or will never drink alcohol. "It's so important for a parent to talk frankly about this issue in a non-threatening environment with their teen," said Rizvi. "Educate them on the dangers of becoming intoxicated, on drinking and driving, and discuss with them ways to make the best decisions possible for their own safety."
It is helpful to discuss a key word with your teen that they can text you if they find themselves in a difficult situation and need help or an easy way to excuse themselves. With this method parents agree not to discuss the issue until later when clear heads prevail and the teen has an "easy out" of unacceptable peer pressure situations they cannot handle, Rizvi said.
Not every spring break travel request will be acceptable to the parent and you may be faced with the difficult task of saying no, Rizvi said. "And that's OK. It might be uncomfortable to put your foot down with your teen, but their health and safety should be paramount."
Parents can temper disappointment by suggesting alternatives. "This is a great time to encourage the teen to volunteer or give something back to the community with a service organization that they choose," said Rizvi. "This could inspire them, and maybe surprisingly, help them have a more meaningful and fun spring break experience in the end."