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Dottie Perry
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Spring Break and Raising Responsible Teens in a World Bent on Their Destruction

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This time of year is simultaneously the most exciting for teens and anxiety-inducing for their parents as Spring Break approaches and kids start making plans and packing up for a week of fun, sun and maybe a DUI or two.

My daughter recently wrote an essay on John Knowles' A Separate Peace. It's a story of childhood friends at a boarding school during WWII. One of the main characters falls from a tree and is seriously, permanently injured after his best friend shakes the branch he'd been perched on. This single act of irresponsibility, shaking the branch, irreparably harms their friendship, and their lives. As my daughter and I discussed the issues the book raised, I was reminded of similar conversations I had with my own parents when I was her age. My parents discussed with my siblings and I how small, isolated bad choices seem insignificant at the time they're made, but can have long-lasting and sometimes permanent harmful repercussions. My conversation with my daughter on that subject eventually turned to the topic of her upcoming Spring Break, where there would inevitably be plenty of irresponsible behavior going on at the beach where she'd be with her friends.

There are so many land mines that need avoiding in a teenager's environment today. I've even seen the teenage "season" described as a child's attempt to open Pandora's Box. That hits close to the mark. There are parents or family members willing to buy alcohol for minors, host parties and turn a blind eye to underage drinking at home; easy access to numerous types of drugs, including prescription medications; and the proliferation of social networking sites that connect kids of disparate ages (e.g., college students and high-schoolers) and allow for the immediate publication of photos and videos regardless of how lewd or incriminating. videos

To top it off, teenagers aren't even mentally capable of exercising good judgment in the face of the myriad dangerous temptations their worlds offer. It's enough to make a parent want to look into a boot camp or nunnery….

Drastic measures aside, advice on managing the dangers of Spring Break for teens abounds. There are websites that encourage traveling to safe destinations, with chaperones and in groups. There are others that encourage developing a safety plan beforehand. Still others admonish parents to just say no, and keep those kids at home, or encourage them to stick around and volunteer in their own community.

The most useful common thread throughout the various sites is the need for ongoing, open communication between teenagers and their parents or the adults in their lives. Teaching strong morals, values and good character is a life-long process that must begin long before they hit the beach for Spring Break. Constant, productive dialogue about the long-term effect of bad decisions is the best way to help them make good decisions, manage their money without adult oversight, and act responsibly when surrounded by others unable to do so. The worst way to learn these life lessons, like the boys did in A Separate Peace, is through tragedy.