Most school districts around the country schedule a week of spring break between mid-March and mid-April. That means spring break is right around the corner. If you haven’t made family plans yet, it’s time to get started. And if you have, we offer sincere congratulations. You’re ahead of the game, and we’re all a bit jealous: we’ve barely recovered from the winter holidays.
One thing about vacations adults learn soon after they join the workforce is this: they’re not baked into the schedule like they were during school years. Yes, you get some time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You may get New Year’s Day off, as well.
But summer? You work.
And spring break? You work.
That’s why the words “spring break” can elicit completely opposite emotions from teenagers and parents. Teenagers tend to see it as a week off to sleep late, hang out with friends, binge shows, and, if they’re lucky, go on an unsupervised trip with a group of friends. For most teens, all the above options sound great.
Some parents, on the other hand – those who don’t have a family trip planned – approach spring break with mixed emotions. Parents who work through the week ask themselves:
Is my teen going to be okay at home unsupervised?
What can I do to make sure they stay out of trouble?
Should I let them go on that unsupervised trip with their friends?
Are they responsible enough to handle it?
These are all valid questions every parent needs to ask and answer. Parents with teens who’ve started to experiment with alcohol and drugs need to think through spring break carefully, because the unsupervised down-time could lead to decisions your teenager may later regret.
How to Handle Spring Break
The answer to the spring break conundrum will vary from teen to teen and family to family. That’s not just a practical reminder: research shows that some of the media hype highlighting the extreme party stereotypes surrounding spring break may be overblown. While the studies focus on college students, what they found is interesting: for individuals who already over-indulge in intoxicants and engage in risky behavior, these behaviors typically escalate during spring break, whereas for individuals who exercise a degree of restraint in the regular lives, these patterns stay relatively stable during spring break.
It’s still an apples to oranges comparison, though: for some teens, this may be the first spring break when they have both increased awareness of and access to drugs and alcohol.
With that in mind, we can offer a simple answer about whether or not you should let your teenager go on an unsupervised trip with their friends: if you know your teen has been drinking or doing drugs, it’s an easy no. And if the group of friends they want to go out of town with are part of the party crew, the no is that much easier. Don’t be afraid to put your foot down: this is a battle worth fighting, and the risks far outweigh the reward. On the other hand, if your teen has proven themselves reliable and responsible, and the group of teens they want to go out of town with are likewise reliable and responsible, then we reccomend thinking about saying yes. It’s an opportunity for them to learn, grow, and prove they’re trustworthy on a whole new level.
Now, as far as how to handle a teen who’s home for a week with no adult supervision, what’s a parent to do?
We have ideas.
Five Simple Ways to Keep Your Teen Out of Trouble During Spring Break
1. Have a Plan.
We know – that’s what you’re reading this article for. You need a plan. So you’re on the right track. We want to reiterate that you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to follow through on the suggestions below. Having a plan – in our opinion – also means including your teenager on the plan, and maybe even the planning itself. If they know what’s coming and have a real say in deciding how their spring break is going to go, they’re more likely to enjoy it.
2. A Family Staycation.
It may be too late to book a trip to the beach or to go see relatives, but you can plan a week of family-friendly activities at home or close by. Day trips, movie binges, or a day rearranging or redecorating your teenager’s room are safe, supervised, family-centric ways to spend time.
3. College Visits.
If your teen is college-bound, then visiting colleges is a great idea. This does not have to mean travel. Most large cities in the U.S. have several colleges or universities either right in town or a relatively short drive away. These visits are a great way for a teen to see up close what a campus looks like and get a feel for student life. Visits also make the idea of college that much more real to them.
Parents can arrange volunteer opportunities for their teen that are formal or informal. Formal volunteering with organizations like The United Way, Habitat for Humanity, or through church organizations is a good place to start. Parents can also keep their eyes and ears open for informal volunteer opportunities at local senior’s centers, preschools, or daycare centers. They can also think about things even closer to home: elderly neighbors who need companionship or help with cooking, shopping, or daily chores.
5. Spring Break Camps.
Savvy summer camp directors offer spring break programs with busy parents in mind. They’re almost always looking to fill these camps. You may be able to find space even if you wait until the last minute. Here’s a tip: museums and theater companies often have spring break intensives in visual and performing arts. These camps have an added bonus: at the end of the week, you usually get to see your kid’s art work, or even better, you get to see them in a final performance based on what they learned during the week.
Make it Count
If the idea of your teen at home unsupervised during spring break makes you cringe, then now is the time to unclench your jaw, reset your attitude, and realize you can take take proactive steps. This does not have to be the year your teen goes off the rails. Think of it as an opportunity for you and your teen to develop a deeper degree of respect and trust. It can be a time for your teen to learn the value of helping others, a time to stay home and re-establish family bonds, or a time to discover a new passion. With proper planning and buy-in from your teen, you can make this spring break as smooth and stress-free as possible.
For more ideas about how to handle spring break, please check out our article from last year on the topic:
If you have a teenager in recovery and this is going to be their first spring break since receiving treatment, please share this article with them:
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.