Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Break Revisited

Spring Break 2001 on South Padre Island, TexasDo you have questions or concerns about how to handle your teen's Spring Break? has teamed up with teen expert, Stephen Wallace, Chairman of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), and author of the book, “Reality Gap: Alcohol, Drugs and Sex — What Parents Don’t Know and Teens Aren’t Telling” to give you some answers:

Q: I am working the week my kids are on Spring Break. What can I do to prevent my teen from engaging in risky behaviors (like drugs, alcohol, etc.)?

A: The best place to start is with communication. Clearly stating your expectations for your kids’ behavior – and what the consequences will be for not meeting those expectations – over Spring Break is critical. Our research shows clearly that parents who take the time to talk with their kids, establish rules, and follow through with punishments when necessary, are more likely to influence their children’s choices.

Q: My teen wants to camp out with her friends for a few nights over Spring Break. How do I know if she’s ready to go away unsupervised?

A: You probably know best whether or not this is a good idea. Has your daughter been in any trouble before? Does she talk with you openly and honestly about decision-making and personal behavior? Will she agree to a set of rules about drug and alcohol use and stick to them? These are all important questions as you weigh the pros and cons of letting her go. We hear from kids that unsupervised sleepovers are often fertile ground for misbehavior (some kids even say that if they were limited by their parents they would be less likely to drink alcohol). Of course, there may be other safety issues as well, depending on the location of the camp out and the proximity of adults who can help if there is a problem.

Q: After holidays like this, the teen party pictures seem to make the rounds on their cell phones and Web sites. How can I warn my teen about posting these pictures and videos?

A: My own review of Facebook and MySpace pages, as well as my knowledge of kids’ use of cell phone cameras, tells me that young people don’t always practice good judgment when it comes to posting pictures and videos. So some good old education is a really good idea. Of course, there should be an expectation that their conduct would preclude inappropriate images of themselves, but they also need to be sensitive to posting pictures of others. Check out’s “Teens and Technology” section for more information about this topic.

Q: When my kids are at home alone, I make sure our liquor cabinet is locked. But is there anything else I can do to safeguard my teen at home?

A: That is a really good idea to lock your liquor cabinet. It is also important, however, to know that kids often get alcohol from others. For example, according to Teens Today research from SADD, almost three-quarters of teens (72 percent) say it is easy for them to purchase or obtain alcohol (compared to only 50 percent of parents who think that is the case). Similarly, 81 percent of teens say they can easily find opportunities to drink. So, having your child commit to remain alcohol free is a good way to keep them safe and out of trouble. Our research also shows that parents who adopt a “zero-tolerance” approach to underage drinking are more likely to have kids who don’t drink. The SADD Contract for Life (available for free at can help.
It’s also a smart idea to lock your medicine cabinet or other places where you keep your prescription and over-the-counter medications at home. Abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs by teens is an emerging drug use trend that parents might not know about – and teens often get these medications from friends or the homes of friends or family. Parents can take immediate steps to protect their teens from Rx abuse by safeguarding all prescription and over-the-counter drugs at home – monitor quantities and control access, and properly dispose of old or unneeded medicines. For more information, visit

Q: How do I know if my teen is using drugs? What signs should I look for?

A: You are right to be concerned. Overall, more than one-third (35 percent) of teens say they use drugs. And, as with drinking, drug use tends to rise as teens get older. Perhaps the clearest signal of drug use is change. Look for changes in affect, mood, personality, level of secrecy, friends, grades, and sleeping or eating patterns. Of course, you also want to be on the lookout for drug paraphernalia (such as pipes or rolling papers), bottles of eye drops that may be used to mask bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils, and missing prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet. Finally, offers detailed information about specific drugs – such as marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy – and what they look like, how they work, and what the symptoms are.

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