Want to Put the Kibosh on Spring Break?
by Dr. Ann L. Engelland
(March 13, 2008) It’s upon us - that time
of year when college kids (and even some high school seniors)
begin to ask about (or announce) their plans for spring break.
Most parents have heard nightmare stories about spring break
bacchanals in warm, sunny locations where the legal drinking
age is “no problem, mon.”
What’s a parent to do? Start with figuring out how
you feel and what you think about spring break. If you are
resisting, where is your resistance coming from? What are
you afraid of? What does your spouse say?
Key issues include:
• Who pays? If it’s your child, is this the
best use of summer savings or bar mitzvah money?
• Where are you comfortable having them go? If plans
include international travel, are you concerned about security
or about health, safety and drinking?
• How is your child doing in school? Does s/he “deserve”
a break, as your child is wont to plead?
• Do you have an alternative to propose? Can you lure
them home with the promise of homemade chicken soup and theater
tickets? Or maybe a family vacation? How about a rest and
a good book? Or maybe a job or internship?
• Do you trust your child to navigate alone abroad
or even out of state?
• Are you just perturbed about how much vacation they
get and how hard you work to raise the $40K per year for some
30 odd weeks of class time?
Increasingly there are alternatives to a spring break fling.
Just a few include:
Clinton Global Initiative: Yup, Bill is organizing a trip
to New Orleans in March to keep himself out of trouble.
• The Student Conservation
Association: for the price of an air ticket you can join
a group in the Grand Canyon (also warm and sunny in March).
This is a great organization that also supports work at many
US national park sites in the summer.
Alternative Break Connection: a web site with numerous
community service possibilities.
Cultural Solutions, based in New Rochelle and growing
all the time, organizes weeklong service trips to many areas,
including Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Russia.
• And more and more colleges are sponsoring alternatives
to spring break, some more meaningful than others.
If, in the end, your child chooses Atlantis, all is not lost.
There is still something to say. And that might be NO.
However, even if you are willing or the decision is out of
your control, a few parental words of wisdom are in order.
Kids often report that they hear their parents’ little
voice when they are misbehaving or heading for trouble. And
sometimes they even listen to what the voice is saying.
A Bit of Advice
The following advice was gathered from conversations with
patients, their parents, and, most importantly, my own kids,
some of whom are “beyond” spring break age and
are now watching out for their younger siblings (and saying
they would not “allow” their teenage daughter
Tell your children that you expect them to be law abiding
and safe, arriving back home sound with good memories and
experiences. Remind them that they may be in a place that
is warm and sunny but poor, and their perceived wealth can
be an object of scorn. Talk about their role as ambassadors
from their school and their country. Ask them to consider
how they as individuals might repair our image abroad.
Suggest a buddy system at all times. Although this might
be especially true for girls, my own sons tell stories of
being mugged in broad daylight in Italy and rescued by friends.
Consider carrying pepper spray when out and about. Contrary
to what a parent might think, a group of traveling students
is probably safer if it’s co-ed rather than young women
alone. They are less likely to be seen as potential prey.
Taxi drivers may be particularly worrisome. Often they will
take unsuspecting or impaired Americans on a long ride, or
worse. And to make matters further complicated, the police
may well be in cahoots with the locals who profit from teenage
On the subject of drinking and drugs: US kids figure, often
incorrectly, that they can drink however they want when abroad.
It is wise to remind them of trouble with potential assault;
unwanted and unprotected sexual experiences when under the
influence; and risks of alcohol poisoning and dehydration
in a country that may have substandard emergency medical help.
An effective and committed buddy system is a way to help ensure
US kids need to know that the laws about possession of marijuana
may be harsh and dutifully enforced in many warm, sunny places.
Dad and Mom can’t necessarily call their law school
buddies and get the bail paid the way they might in Florida.
Accept NO pills that are not dispensed by a pharmacy. Rules
about avoiding mixed drinks also need to be observed.
Remind your child about the importance of hydration and sunscreen.
When they party until 4 am and sleep until 11, the first thing
they do is go lie in the sun and emerge hours later with second
or third degree sunburns on one side only.
It’s okay to insist on a check-in call or email at
least once during the vacation. Be sure to have a number or
two to contact parents of fellow travelers while they are
If all of this just seems too scary and risky or not in keeping
with your family’s values, try once more to suggest
helping foot the bill for a hiking trip to Joshua Tree National
Forest, a sail-powered kayak trip in the Everglades, a scuba
course in the Florida Keys; or a last minute ski trip to the
Rockies. Sure, those who are inclined to get into trouble
may find opportunities wherever they go, but the wholesome
factor might stand a chance of prevailing in the end.
And you never know. They might surprise you. Prompted to
think outside the usual box, your children might just take
you up on one of your suggestions.
Dr. Engelland has a practice in Mamaroneck devoted
to Adolescent Primary Care. She now accepts Aetna and
Hudson Health Plan. Dr. Engelland can be reached at