By Hugh C. McBride
Lurking about halfway between the winter holidays and summer vacation are two words that elicit divergent emotions among tingling-with-excitement teenagers and their apprehensive (if not downright fearful) parents: Spring Break.
While many older students envision a week or two of sun-drenched debauchery and their younger counterparts hope for a fortnight’s respite from anything resembling responsibility, parents are faced with the dilemma of managing both expectations and behaviors. Suffice it to say that the likelihood of conflict is considerable.
Though every parent of a teenager knows that an excess of free time isn’t such a good thing – especially when it comes to keeping your child away from drugs, alcohol, and other negative influences – the following tips can help increase the odds that your child’s spring break will be free of 4 a.m. phone calls or unexpected visits from local law enforcement personnel:
1. Establish Rules & Consequences – If your teenager is still in high school, he may be planning to do little more than sleep late and hang out with friends all day, while a college-age teen who comes home for the break may be expecting to have the same type of freedom that she enjoys in the dorm. Before either of these “dreams” have a chance to become reality, remember that as a parent, you have considerable influence over your teen’s actions, and should exert that influence in as positive a manner as possible.
Let your kids know what you expect of them (regarding, for example, curfews, chores, and general behavior), and what consequences will result from their failure to comply. Then be sure that you stand behind what you’ve said.
2. Be Reasonable & Realistic – As much as you’d like your children to get up at dawn, cook you a hot breakfast, do the laundry, then begin knocking on your neighbors’ doors to see if anyone needs help with anything, there’s a definite need to retain a sense of realism when establishing your expectations for your children. You also need to adhere to that age-old military maxim: Never give a command that you’re not ready and willing to enforce.
With these thoughts in mind, craft a list of expectations that are both realistic and reasonable – in other words, make rules that your children are capable of following, with penalties that offer an opportunity for rehabilitation instead of just retribution.
3. Remain Open to Negotiation – It’s human nature to be more likely to support rules that you’ve had a part in creating, and no matter how many times they may give you reason to doubt it, teenagers are indeed people, too. When talking to your children about family rules, make sure that the communication takes the form of a discussion, not a lecture. (Of course, if your child has proven himself unworthy of your trust, then this factor needs to be addressed when talking about rules and needs to be established as a reason why he’s not being given the opportunity to provide as much input as he could be.)
As Rose Garret, a staff writer at education.com, puts it, “There’s nothing wrong with a little give and take, and teens will appreciate playing a part in the process.”
4. Keep Them Busy – When it comes to your kids and good behavior, boredom is not your friend. Whether you’re enlisting their help in cleaning the house, sending them to the neighbor’s to help with a few end-of-winter chores, or taking everyone to the mall for some spring shopping, the more activities you engage them in, the less opportunity they’ll have to sneak away and engage in off-limits behaviors.
Develop a list of age-appropriate assignments and activities for your children, and be sure to balance “family time” with opportunities for your kids to enjoy moments of independence.
5. Stay in Touch – Remember that cell phone your kid kept bugging you to buy for him? Well, it’s about to become your best friend. One of the advantages of today’s media-saturated, hyper-connected world is that it’s much easier for you to “reach out and touch” your teenager, and it’s much more difficult for her to claim that she couldn’t find a phone to check in with you.
6. Share the Burden – In your effort to keep your kids on the straight and narrow, don’t think you have to “go it alone.” If you anticipate having problems with your teen’s behavior, visit your local library, contact your child’s guidance counselor, make an appointment with a mental health professional, or go online to research what the experts (including other parents) are saying about helping teens behave appropriately.
If your teen is exhibiting particularly troubling attitudes or behavior patterns, know that there is help for these situations as well.
7. Enjoy the Opportunity – Yes, having a teen or two underfoot for a few weeks can be a stressful experience, but it’s also the stuff memories are made of. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to let your children know that you love them and are proud of them. Kind words may not be a cure-all for every problem your family is experiencing, but their absence can make bad situations a whole lot worse. Have high expectations for your children, and don’t be shy about letting them know when they’ve been “caught” doing something great.