It's not even Halloween, yet private school kids all over the city are making elaborate plans for that bacchanal festival, often turned fiasco, called Spring Break. For many it has become as much a right of passage as the prom, with the major difference being it involves leaving the country to unregulated destinations such as the Caribbean and Mexico for seven chaperone-free days where the chief activities are drinking, sunning and sex.
We've all seen the photos from Sarasota Beach, Palm Springs and Ft. Lauderdale of bikini-clad girls, blindly drunk, wrapped around guys partaking in beer drinking contests, and thousands of half naked kids dancing on the beach and passing around bottles or joints. And if you ever log onto your kid's Facebook page you've seen far worse.
That those kids are in college does not excuse this kind of indulgence, and many colleges are creating alternative Spring Break options. However, the kids I'm talking about are still in high school. They may be on their way to college but when they board those flights, passport and parent's Amex in hand, they are often still seventeen-years-old. The stats are online: the average male consumes eighteen drinks a day during Spring Break holidays, the average female ten. In Florida the arrests for underage drinking and public misconduct due to alcohol abuse are up sixty percent during Spring Break. And that's Florida, where there are laws in place and people who like to impose them.
Most kids do come back in one piece. But there are many who end up at the hospital in alcohol-induced comas, a few every year who drunkenly stumble off the balcony or out a window, and then there is the poster child for spring trips gone amok: Natalie Holloway. However, neither this nor our current financial crisis seems to influence the hundreds of parents who are at the moment making down payments on room, board and unlimited alcoholic beverages so their children can celebrate their last year in high school. I've spent the last two years making a documentary on upper middle class children and their problems, which range from eating disorders, hovering at an all time high, to drug and alcohol abuse (ditto), depression, and addiction to prescription drugs. Amidst all of this one of the biggest problems they face is that they are being raised by a generation of parents who for some reason are not able to channel Nancy Reagan and "just say no."
There is no question "Just Say No" doesn't always work. In terms of sex you are usually talking to a brick wall. Case in point: Sarah Palin's daughter. But, in terms of Spring Break they can't go without their passports and their parents' money.
So what keeps parents from doing what they know is right?
The most common response is "every one is doing it." Didn't Jim Jones say that when he was passing out the Kool-Aid? "They will feel left out." Left out of what? Comparing black out stories, who got the worst STD, who knew more people who had to be rushed to the hospital; or whose roommate threw up the most times in one night?
And then there is, "They've worked so hard in high school they deserve a break." If they worked hard they do deserve a break, but does eighteen mai-tais a day for seven days sound like the kind of break a seventeen year-old-really needs?
To make the whole thing worse, once they're home and sober they post photos of themselves in their most hideous states on Facebook and MySpace for their friends; now also a popular place for college admissions officers to check up on applicants.
My own daughter started rattling my cage about Spring Break last year. I said unequivocally, No, no way, no how. Since the down payments are due now, she recently reopened her case. The pleas, the cries, the promises of sobriety in the face of peer pressure, and then the final attempt: she just wanted to be with her friends one last time. I told her "one last time" had different implications, several of which made me uncomfortable: The answer remained, No. Then her Plan B - mean girl time, I was "ruining her life," "the cruelest mom in the world," the obligatory door slam, followed by two days of silence. This is the point where many parents give in. Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privelige, says that parents cannot weather the storms of their child's frustration and rejection; thus the total inability for many of our generation to "just say no" and stick with it.
Numerous parents I spoke with about spring break want to say no. But I have found very few who, when mano a mano with their pleading teen, have the ability to say, "You're not going." A mother I know justified it with, "They're going to drink anyway, why not there?" Why not there? Because "there" is a foreign country, thousands of miles away from anyone who might be able to impose a little bit of moderation and if an emergency arose, God forbid, take care of it. Because without some form of parental or adult supervision average kids after five -- let's not even add on the thirteen extra thirteen -- have lost all common sense. Because without common sense and a blood alcohol level that would kill an elephant they could end up out a window, in a car with someone equally as drunk, or late at night on a beach with God knows who and it may very well be the "one last time" they see their friends.
Because as parents it is our job to keep them safe, impose rules and regulations and try to teach them values that they in turn will pass on to their children. And in twenty- five years when your grandchildren are asking them to go off on one of these ridiculous adventures, you don't want them saying -- my other favorite boomer parental excuse for not imposing restrictions -- "we did it, didn't we?"