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Spring break is a collegiate rite of passage, a time when young adults have the opportunity to see new sites and broaden their horizons. After working hard during the semester, writing papers and studying for midterm exams, spring break is a welcome respite for your kids, one that is undeniably hard-earned. For many college students, having this time off and going somewhere new with their friends is the first vacation or travel experience they will ever have undertaken without adults. The sense of boundless freedom that this creates in the university-age imagination often causes an equal amount of anxiety in their parents’. So how do you sit by and let your college-age child take a flight to Cancún, or hole up in a friend’s beach house for a week without spending it in constant worry? Here’s some advice for long distance parenting your college students when they are traveling on their own for spring break.
Remember They’re Becoming Adults
Sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile that baby who you rocked to sleep on countless night is now the nearly-grown person navigating the world of college. As difficult as it may be for you as a parent, it’s important to remember that kids at this age aren’t little children anymore, and are striving for their independence. As Psychology Today notes, “your child is making a transition from adolescence to adulthood.” If your student has gone away to college, the pangs you feel may be similar to those you felt when you first moved him or her into the dorms. Or, if your student has elected to live at home while going to school, a spring break trip may be your very first introduction to this unsettling feeling. Rest assured it is perfectly normal, but understand that developmentally this independence is important for your child’s well-being.
Research Travel Options Together
The weeks between the end of February and mid-April are peak “spring break season,” when thousands of college students will travel to warm climates and sandy beaches. Start making a plan with your kid well in advance of their departure date. Perennial spring break hot spots like Panama City, Florida or South Padre Island, Texas also see an uptick in crime during the spring break season, as thieves and scam artists know these places are overrun by inexperienced travelers. No destination should be written off entirely for this reason alone, but working with your kid to identify safe places to possibly visit will work a lot better than haranguing them about all the potential dangers of their vacation.
Talk About Safety
Once your student and their travel companions have figured out where they are going, have a frank conversation with them about safety. Travelling for Spring Break can be one of the most memorable experiences of their college years, but you want it to be memorable in a good way! If this is your child’s first experience traveling alone, make sure they understand the importance of guarding their keys, wallets, and cell phones, going places together in a group, and perhaps most importantly, the dangers of underage drinking.
We all know that within the United States, the legal drinking age is 21. However, we also know there are plenty of ways for underage students to skirt this law. If your kid is traveling outside the United States, drinking is even easier, as many other countries have a lower minimum drinking age. Although you may not want to believe it, there is a strong chance your student will be drinking during their spring break.
Speaking to them about the importance of drinking responsibly will likely be a more effective means of communication than threatening them with punishment or repercussions if they’re caught. Think of it this way: If your child was to experience something unfortunate far away from home as a result of drinking, would you want him or her to be afraid to contact you? In all likelihood, you’d prefer to be there to offer assistance and support. Since that’s not an option, it’s vital to have this conversation before they travel. In fact, have it several times! It may be uncomfortable—you might even get an eye-roll or two—but it’s your job as their parent to make sure they understand all possible consequences of their actions. If you need help figuring out how to talk to your student traveler about drinking or any other safety matters, the organization Fight Back on Spring Break offers a wealth of information and safety tips for both parents and students.
Set A Few Ground Rules
Speaking of safety, just because a spring break trip will likely facilitate your child’s independence doesn’t mean you have no say in their travel plans. You are still their parent, and while they are learning to live on their own, your kid probably still depends on you in some (if not many) ways. Setting some reasonable expectations for their upcoming trip is a sensible thing to do. How often would you like them to be in touch while they are away? Should they call you once a day? Is three or four times during the trip enough? Do you want them to text periodically? Figure out how much communication (within reason) you expect from them, and let them know. Before they leave, and especially if they will be traveling internationally, make it easy for them to get in touch. Make sure your son or daughter’s cell phone is equipped to work internationally, and contact your service provider to alert them to the trip. Most phone plans nowadays include special roaming packages for overseas travel, so you won’t be shocked with an outrageous bill upon their return.
If you are contributing financially to your student’s trip, set a budget with them ahead of time, and insist they stick with it. You may already have a budgeting plan in place for their day-to-day lives at school, or perhaps you are already a whiz at vacation planning. If so, use these experiences you already share to help them maintain expectations for their upcoming trip. Too many drinks at the tiki bar may mean they have to pass up the fun, impromptu snorkel expedition their friends are taking the next day, for instance. Using real life examples like these will help your child get a sense of what things cost, and in turn give them a better appreciation for using the money they will be taking with them on the trip.
Even If They Aren’t Traveling
Not all college students decide to travel for spring break. Many decide to stay at school during their time off; many more decide to come home for a visit. No matter what they decide, finding a balance during this break from school is key. If your child decides to stay at school, try not to feel hurt or offended. They may welcome the opportunity to rest or get ahead in their studies in the relative quiet of a mostly-empty campus. Or perhaps they have a job or internship that they’d prefer not to leave. These are decisions to be respected, not ones to make them feel guilty for. If your student comes home for their break, remember that they have been working hard. Let them sleep in, relax, and enjoy their time at home. Realize they may want to spend a good amount of time with local friends who may also be home. And most of all, cherish the time you do spend together. Your kid is growing up—whether they travel somewhere exotic or return home, make their visit one you both remember fondly.
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