Helping Your Teen Stay Safe during Senior Week at the Beach

The blog post below was submitted by Dr. Rick Silver, Founder and Director of The THRIVE Center, located in Columbia:

As these cold, rainy days of winter linger, we are all dreaming of 70-degree weather and weekends spent outdoors.  And if you have a student graduating high school, you are already discussing the teenage version of getting-back-to-nature – the annual ritual known as Senior Week at the beach.

Although accepted as inevitable by many parents, a child’s participation in this event still needs to be approached thoughtfully.  While true that most teens return from their revelries relatively unscathed, risks exists – death, serious injuries, rapes and arrests are all woven into the 25 year history of Maryland’s Senior Week.

Here are some tips about how to approach the discussions with your child around Senior Week, with a focus on how to inform and guide them in engaging in safe behaviors and good decision making.

1.    Attendance is NOT a given – Despite parents often feeling pressured by their teens to permit them to go to Senior Week, sending your child off for a week of unsupervised fun-in-the-sun – with easy availability of alcohol and drugs -- needs to be carefully thought through.  

Ask yourself:  Do I trust my child to make the best possible decisions to stay safe?  If the answer is not a clear “yes”, then expect them to stay home, and help them find alternate ways to celebrate their well-earned first step into adulthood. 

Better yet, start early:  if you are a parent for whom the notion of blessing a week at the beach for your still-vulnerable youngster brings feelings of dread, make it clear -- as they move through high school -- that graduation will be celebrated close to home, not at the beach.

Remember: the risks of illicit alcohol and drug use are frightening and in many cases, irreversible.  Protect your child.

2.    Offer the possibility of an alcohol- and drug-free trip -- Ocean City, Md., has a Play It Safe program (http://playitsafeoceancity.com/)  that provides access to free concerts, laser tag and other activities, as well as a free wristband which lets you use the bus system for a week, at no charge.

3.   Realistically speaking, Beach Week is first and foremost a setup for underage drinking -- If you are inclined to permit your child to go, take seriously your decision that you are condoning (abetting?) underage drinking.  These are intentionally strong words to call attention to the perspective that this parental choice should not be taken lightly. 

While some parents might view underage alcohol use as an inevitable rite of passage, this does not absolve us of the responsibility for guiding our children on how to enjoy themselves appropriately without increasing risk.

Underage drinking remains a serious public health problem, with consequences such as aggressive behavior, property damage, injuries, violence, and deaths. A government study showed that alcohol is a factor in the deaths of 4,358 young people under age 21 each year, including:

·         1,580 deaths from motor vehicle crashes

·         1,269 from homicides

·         245 from alcohol poisoning, falls, burns, and drowning

·         492 from suicides

So remind your children:

·         No drinking and driving

·         Always have a designated driver

·         Know your limits and your body – pace yourself, never drink on an empty belly, know your inner signals for when to stop, stay hydrated

·         Never put your open drink down at a party

·         Never go to a social event without a buddy who has your back

·         If you get in a difficult situation and want to leave, call a friend, call an Uber, call a parent

4.    Never go off by yourself -- Even when sober, young women are subject to threats to their safety and lives – particularly in a setting where boundaries are loose, the good times are rolling, and even the most careful teen is surrounded by peers with bad judgment and possibly worse intent.

Remind them:  Always have a support system with you.  Make sure that you and your friends have each other’s backs, and that you have discussed a way of getting help FAST if someone gets into trouble.

5.  Know the signs of alcohol toxicity and drug overdose -- Alert eyes save lives.  Get on-line with your teen and review the signs that an intoxicated friend is in trouble physically and mentally.  Make sure that they know when and how to call for help.

6.    Use your camera carefully -- While your teen will be avidly recording every aspect of their Senior Week adventures for years of fond memories, they must remember:  what happens in Ocean City does NOT stay in Ocean City – especially if it has been posted on the internet.  So tell your child:  don’t post anything you wouldn’t want a future employer to see on Facebook.  Don’t post anything that you think might result in cyberbullying.

As parents, we experience a sense of gratification when our children reach beyond their current limits.  But in addition to great joys, adulthood offers great risks.  If your child is going to Beach Week, do your part as a parent to help make their experience a fond memory.  Our graduating seniors still need our wisdom to be safe and successful as they reach for the next rung in the ladder to independence.