Parenting Safety

The worst souvenir for your child’s spring break

I’m just going to say it: An STD is a terrible souvenir to take home from spring break.

If you’re the parent of a teen who’s planning a trip with friends out of the Augusta area, out of the state or even out of the country, amid all the packing and planning, definitely carve out some time to have a serious talk about safety, expectations and responsibility.

Not to be a downer, but an STD could be the least of your child’s worries if he or she finds themselves in a bad situation, far away from home.

Expect the best, plan for the worst

Well before your child hits the road with friends, it’s a good idea to share expectations about this spring break trip—both yours and your child’s. This is a time to be upfront and honest, even if it makes your child (and you) a little uncomfortable.

Ask: Will drinking or drugs be involved?

Ideally, there won’t be any drinking if your child is underage and especially not any drug use. But—spring break is notoriously a time where kids expect to “go wild.” You likely know your child and his or her values. But whether or not you think your child might be tempted, talk about making smart choices. If drinking is going to happen, your child needs to make sure to stay in control and never go off alone with a stranger. Also, it’s good practice never to take a drink from someone if you didn’t see it get mixed. Drinking in hot tubs should also be avoided since the combination can cause dehydration, dizziness and even make you pass out.

When it comes to drug use, street drugs are inherently dangerous since there’s no way to know what is actually in them or how strong they are. Users could become violently ill or even worse. There are many horror stories out there, so if you don’t think you can convince your child to just say no, suggest he or she do a little internet research on the topic.

Ask: Are you considering “hooking up” with a stranger?

It may make your child roll his or her eyes, but it’s a fact: Spring break isn’t the best place to meet a new boyfriend or girlfriend. While it’s great to have fun and meet new friends for the week, one week isn’t long enough to get to know someone or to become intimate with them. And you certainly don’t want to be caught alone in a situation that’s moving faster than you anticipated. It’s good practice for your child and his or her friends to make a promise to stick together—and to keep that promise. Hold one another accountable so that everyone can stay safe and healthy.

Ask: Do you and your friends have the same plans and expectations?

In most cases, your child and his or her friends will have the same goals for the trip. But it’s still a good idea for everyone to sit down ahead of time, with parents present, to go over plans and expectations. Talk about general safety precautions, such as keeping the name of the hotel and room numbers private, keeping copies of IDs/credit cards stored separately in case originals are stolen or using a crossbody satchel as a purse. This is another good time to reinforce the importance of sticking together. Another good practice is to come up with a code word if your child or a friend feels uncomfortable in a certain situation. The code word can be used if you need help or want to leave.

It’s also important to know that if your child is traveling out of the United States, foreign countries don’t have the same law system we have. Something your child thinks is an innocent prank could have serious consequences, so educate your child to respect a country’s laws and culture. On a separate but related note, Wikitravel and Lonely Planet publish guides on some of the most common scams in other countries and how to avoid them.

Finally, plan to have a nightly check-in with your child by phone—not just by text. It doesn’t have to be long or embarrassing—just a quick call to say everything’s OK.

Ask: Where will you be staying?

If you’re helping your child make arrangements, try to secure a room above the first floor and below the sixth. First-floor rooms tend to be the easiest targets for thieves, while rooms above the sixth floor often don’t have fire escapes. If your child is renting a house or staying at a friend’s home, check about security measures. Also, make sure you have the address and contact numbers.

Ask: Will you be using taxis/Uber at your destination?

You don’t want to worry about your child’s safety using transportation, but if he or she will be using taxis or Uber, it’s even more important for friends to stay together and for no one to drink so heavily that he or she could be putting themselves at risk if they have to ride somewhere alone. Also, it’s a good idea to keep the hotel’s name and address on phones, just in case no one can quite recall the exact name or location.

A few final thoughts

Teach your child to trust their gut. If he or she feels uncomfortable, it’s OK to say no—or to lie and make up a reason to leave. It’s better than to be put in a bad situation. If a friend wants to stay, that makes it tough, which is why that conversation about expectations is so important. But if your child’s gut is saying, “We have to get out of here,” then the best advice you can give them is to do whatever it takes to get themselves out of there, from getting sick to making up an emergency phone call.

Because while this is a pretty serious conversation, the ultimate goal of spring break is for your child to go and have fun. The best way for your child to do that—and for you as a parent to be able to relax and not worry (too much!)—is to talk through the expectations and good safety practices ahead of time. Sure, it’s a bit of a downer, but it’s worth it.

The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has the largest team of general pediatricians, adolescent medicine physicians and pediatric specialists in the Augusta area. Children’s offers adolescent care by board-certified adolescent medicine specialists who are trained to understand the unique health and social issues teens and young adults face between the ages of 11 and 21.
For more information, visit augustahealth.org/kids or call 706-721-KIDS (5437).

About the author

Kathryn Strickler McLeod, MD

Kathryn Strickler McLeod, MD

Pediatric General and Adolescent Medicine

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