It’s that time of year again, when the weather warms and school lets out for a few days so everyone can soak up the sun. And for high school- and college-aged kids, spring break can also be a time for test driving new-found independence and venturing out on parent-free vacations. But, unfortunately, that freedom can have dangerous consequences.
If your child is heading off on a nice, relaxing trip to celebrate the dawn of spring sans parents, here are some potential dangers to keep in mind and, hopefully, avoid.
Let’s talk about sex
When balmy temps collide with swimsuit-clad young adults, sexual tension is bound to run high. Add in alcohol, says Dr. Susan Anderson, and mutual flirtation can quickly morph into aggressive—and unwanted—advances. “While many people think of sexual assault as occurring after someone is given a date rape drug, the most common drug is the one that is easily accessible: alcohol,” she says. The use and misuse of this depressant impacts both cognitive and motor skills, including decision-making, misreading of cues and physical reaction/response times.”
Anderson recommends that students of legal drinking age be vigilant about buying their own drinks, watching as they’re made and tossing any that were abandoned for even a short period of time.
But the problem isn’t just about forced sexual relations. Even consensual sex can lead to long-term ramifications. “The vacation mindset of ‘What happens here, stays here’ increases the likelihood of casual sexual encounters,” says Anderson. “If students choose to have sex, they must first make sure they are capable of giving consent and that it is a decision they will not regret. They also need to understand that there is no such thing as safe sex—only safer sex with the correct use of condoms, every time and for all forms of sex.”
It is important for parents to have frank discussions with their children about sex and the possible consequences well before any spring break trips or activities occur, adds Anderson. And parents shouldn’t be concerned that the conversation will actually “push” their kids into risqué behavior. “Teenagers are sexual beings and many will explore and experiment to some extent on spring break due to the sense of freedom the spring break culture provides,” she says. “Parents who are consistent and talk openly with their teens about the importance of self-respect and respect for others, as a key component of sexuality, tend to be heard and their words of wisdom better received.”
We live in an often-scary world, and the reality is that any of us can be the victim of crime at any given time. Sadly, though, teens and young adults enjoying spring break vacations are often disproportionately targeted for crimes like petty theft and robbery. Scott Hume, the associate director of Security Response Services at Global Rescue says that every year, his company responds to numerous student crises and has partnered with universities to provide monitoring and response services.
“Criminals seek out those they feel are the weakest targets, including individuals who look out of place, do not fit in or have an apparent weakness—like intoxicated foreigners, females and handicapped individuals,” he says. “If confronted, students should stay calm, cooperate and surrender their valuables. They should not try to fight their attacker, as most robberies can end peacefully. But they should try to discreetly study the attacker’s height, weight and face so they can give a description to the police later.”
Once involved in a criminal altercation, compliance is key in avoiding further harm or tragedy, but there are ways to prevent the confrontation from ever happening, says Hume. Here are some of his tips:
- When going out, avoid taking a purse or wallet and instead only take the cash and ID you need for that night. Everything else should go in the safe in your hotel room.
- If you do take a wallet with you, wrap a rubber band around it. This extra bit of friction makes it difficult to pickpocket someone. If you take a handbag, make sure that it has a wide sturdy strap that is difficult to cut and wear it across your body rather than on one shoulder.
- Don’t leave your bag alone when at a bar or restaurant.
- Exercise caution with taxis: Taxis ordered by phone are safer than those hailed on the street. Ask for the cab number when ordering. Use only properly marked taxis and beware of unmarked cabs.
- Walk with purpose and in well-lit public areas.
- Don’t take out or refer frequently to a map, and be aware of how often you show your valuables, like a phone or jewelry.
- Do not discuss personal matters with strangers, including your itinerary, place of lodging or mode of transportation.
- If you are being followed on a well-traveled street, indicate to your pursuer that you know you are being followed. Then go straight for help or to a public area.
As Hume notes, the act of leaving home can, in itself, trigger criminal attacks. But aside from looking like easy marks, spring breakers are also at a safety disadvantage because they simply aren’t aware of safe zones and locations—and those that aren’t so safe—while traveling. Robert Boyers, an attorney with the Miami law firm Hannon & Boyers, has extensive experience representing tourists to South Florida who become victims of crime or injury while traveling. He advises spring breakers to be vigilant about researching their destination well in advance of their trip.
“With respect to hotels, read reviews of them before booking a stay, and make sure to select hotels with a good reputation for safety and security,” he says. “Common area lighting and door locks should be uniformly functional, surveillance cameras should surround the exterior of the building and each room should have a safe for valuables. Your hotel should also have roving security patrols in and around the hotel and in its parking lot.” Hume also suggests requesting a hotel room that is located on the side of the hotel farthest from the entrance and on the lowest floor above ground level. Then, once checked in, students should check all available escape routes and identify a simple evacuation route in the event of an emergency.”
Obviously, students will want to venture out to nightclubs and other hotspots, says Boyers, but before heading out, they should speak to hotel staffers or other reliable, local sources about which high crime areas should be avoided. “Research the history of particular nightclubs online before selecting your nightspot,” he adds. “You should select nightclubs that have an adequate security force and, preferably, off-duty police officers. Some nightclubs are notorious for crimes ranging from violent and, sometimes, lethal assaults to robberies and rapes.”
The parental right to veto
The chances of a well-planned, well-intentioned spring break trip going awry are certainly there, but according to Dr. John Duffy, a clinical psychologist specializing in work with teens, communication can quell many of the dangers. “Parents need to handle their talks regarding spring break with a lot of care,” he says. “Lectures tend to be unheard and highly ineffective, and most of our teenagers know the risks and the lectures before we even begin. The first consideration is whether the trip is going to take place. Before anything else, we parents are guardians of health and safety, most especially for our younger children. We may decide that the degree of supervision is not acceptable, or the access to alcohol or drugs.”
“If you choose to allow your child a spring break trip, let her know that you want her to enjoy herself, but that you also want her to be safe,” Duffy adds. “And be clear about what you mean by that. If you don’t want her drinking, for example, tell her so. This may have an impact on her behavior. And help her develop a safety plan should something go wrong for her or her friends. It is critically important that parents do not ignore the risks, or assume that somehow their child is immune to them. Regardless of your child’s maturity or character, talk to him or her about the risks, and make yourself available to talk about them on an ongoing basis.”