Having to wire bail money to your teenager in a Mexican prison. Discovering your daughter begged for bus fare on a street corner to get back home. Seeing embarrassing, career-ruining pictures on Facebook of your son chugging beer while judging a wet T-shirt contest.
Over the decades, the specific fears may evolve, but worrying about teenagers on spring break is a rite of passage for some parents.
Whether you've allowed your teen to sell you on the idea that they deserve their own vacation (what, and you don't?) or you came up with the idea because you have fond memories of your own spring breaks, you have every right to worry. After all, you're a parent, and it's a dangerous world out there.
"Most teens and young adults don't go crazy over spring break, and a lot are enjoying it responsibly or maybe indulging in it a little bit—but it's not just your own kid you have to be concerned about. You also have to worry about the other students out there," says Pat Seaman, a mother of two teenage girls and the senior director at the Denver-based National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), a nonprofit that aims to educate Americans about personal finance.
So if your teen is about to head out on spring break, you may want to consider the following:
Do plenty of pre-trip planning. It sounds logical, but not for the reasons you might expect (i.e., wanting to find a hotel with a vacancy). You'd be wise to call ahead and ask about a hotel's specific policy in admitting as solo guests teenagers and even early twentysomethings, especially when it's spring break, says Tracy Line, the owner of Noblesville Travel, a travel agency in Noblesville, Ind.
Hotels in popular spring-break areas such as Panama City, Fla., or South Padre Island, Texas, often have age restrictions in place during the spring-break period, according to Line. "Most hotels in these destinations require someone in the party to be 25, and they will be required to show ID upon check-in," Line says, noting that anyone under 18 may need an adult with them. The bottom line: "Those between 18 and 25 may need to be flexible about their destination choice. Most hotels are pretty strict with age and spring," she says.
If hotels are strict, rental car services are even more so. "I don't know of any car rental agency that will rent to anyone under the age of 18, and most will not rent to anyone under the age of 21," says Line, adding that exceptions are in New York and Michigan; both states are legally required to rent to 18-year-olds and up.
That may be just as well, especially if there's any chance your teenager and their friends will be drinking, and odds are, they won't need a car anyway. As Seaman says, "Many spring-break cities probably have shuttles or other kinds of buses or transportation for spring breakers, and if they're within walking distance of the beach, they're not going to need a car."
Warn your kids about theft. It isn't just con artists at the airport or on the boardwalk who want to lift your kid's wallet or iPhone. If your 19-year-old college freshman or sophomore is heading out on spring break, remind them that every crook in town knows exactly when college students are leaving their homes.
"You should make sure they've secured the valuables in their dorm room or apartment before they leave," Seaman advises.
How exactly your offspring does this depends on their situation, of course. But this may be the time to teach them about the benefits of a safety deposit box at the bank, or if they have expensive electronics that can't be easily moved, to make sure they're insured. Speaking of which...
Travelers insurance. If your teenager is making tracks out of the country, perhaps to Mexico or the Caribbean, you should consider getting travelers insurance.
It may seem ludicrous given how high premiums are, but many private insurers don't cover emergency treatment outside of the country. Check with your insurer first to get the ins and outs on your coverage, but if your teen isn't covered, travel insurance will help get your son or daughter to a decent, and hopefully a very good, hospital or doctor. You can find a list of reputable companies offering travelers insurance at the U.S. Department of State website.