Notoriously one of the most high-risk weeks in the high school year, spring break might offer teens (and their parents) a chance to escape the winter grind, but beach trips, cruises and even a week spent at home can offer up an array of temptations for struggling teens and for teens trying to stay afloat. What’s more, it’s all too easy to think that sending your kids on a chaperoned trip is the answer.

While chaperoned trips are always the best idea for high school students on spring break, it’s important to realize that supervisors cannot be with your teen at all times – and regardless of the adult-to-teen ratio, it’s common sense to realize that there’s a strong likelihood your teen may well find him/herself confronted with the opportunity to experiment with alcohol and/or illegal substances.

Whether or not these are issues your teen is already facing, pressure from peers or the idea that what happens on spring break “doesn’t count” can be hard for struggling or on-the-verge teens to resist. Likewise, leaving a teen at home to entertain him/herself without supervision can lead to equally dangerous situations: your child doesn’t have to go out of town to get into trouble – that’s why denying your teen the opportunity to enjoy his/her spring break experience isn’t necessarily the answer, either.

Instead, use these spring break guidelines to handle your teen’s spring break week constructively:

  1. Communicate with your teen about his/her spring break plans well in advance. Ask your teen what he/she would like to and ask them to take responsibility for the break by researching the options available to him/her. If your daughter wants to go on a cruise with friends, for example, ask her to research trip costs and specific itineraries as well as provide the names of adult chaperones and other teens planning on the same trip. Entrusting your teen with these types of arrangements (with your supervision, of course) is a good way to empower them to behave in an adult, responsible manner.
  2. Be clear about the behavior you expect your teen to demonstrate. Regardless of whether or not you are able to help chaperone your teen’s spring break trip, be absolutely clear about the standards of behavior you expect from him/her. These standards should be no different from those you uphold at home, but it’s important to clarify this with your teen: make it obvious that your teen’s behavior on spring break counts just as much as his/her behavior at any other time or in any other situation.
  3. Make sure the trip is well chaperoned by responsible adults (preferably the parents of other students) and that you know at least one of the adults going. If you have any concerns whatsoever about your child’s behavior on the trip, speak up. Having a positive, open conversation with the chaperones before the trip ever departs will give them the insight they need to help your child stay on track. While you cannot expect chaperones to take complete responsibility for your teen’s conduct, making them aware of “warning signs” that your teen might be engaging in potentially dangerous behaviors will only make their job easier (and your child’s health and safety better).
  4. Set up regular telephone “check in” times. If you’re not chaperoning your child’s spring break trip, establish once or twice daily check-in times for the duration of the trip. Ask your teen to call you before breakfast and then again after dinner or before bed, for example. Make it clear that you don’t expect a long conversation (let’s face it, you’re probably not going to get one!) but you do want to know that he/she is safe and enjoying their trip. Frame your request in a positive light so that your child realizes the calls are not meant to serve as “Big Brother” but are simply intended to keep the lines of communication open. Likewise.
  5. Make sure your teen also knows that he/she can call you at any time for any reason. In addition to establishing regular call-in times, your teen also needs to know that you are available to them twenty-four hours a day. Emphasize the fact that if he/she encounters a problem or uncomfortable situation, you will be there to talk and to help, NOT criticize. Again, the more open the communication between you and your teen, the more likely it is that he/she will behave responsibly.
  6. Offer rewards, not consequences. Earning trust, respect
    and freedom is a much greater motivator for any teen than the threat of losing
    any privileges they may already possess. Rather than threaten your child with
    negative consequences for poor spring break behavior or reports from chaperones,
    try a more positive approach. Discuss the fact that spring break is an excellent
    opportunity for your teen to demonstrate responsible independence, then work
    together to decide on a fair reward for good behavior and good reports from
    chaperones after the trip. Not only will this approach create positive motivation
    for your child, it will also reinforce the message that your teen’s behavior
    on spring break is indeed important.