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Time for Some Emotional Spring Cleaning?Marybeth Bock, MPH
As we turn the page from February to March, college students have one thing on their minds. No, it’s not midterms — it’s spring break!
For college students, spring break is a time to celebrate finishing midterms and to get a much-needed break from their studies. For many it’s also a chance to socialize and plan trips with their friends.
As parents, we largely wish our students would avoid the kind of college fun immortalized in movies like Animal House and Van Wilder. Unfortunately, we can’t control everything our college students do when they’re out with friends or on a spring break trip.
That’s why it’s important to make sure our students know how to party safely, so however they decide to celebrate spring break, they return to school as healthy as when they left.
Here are 11 spring break safety tips for college students that will help college parents sleep a bit better at night.
Make sure your student keeps their driver’s license on them at all times while traveling. If they’re taking an international spring break trip, they’ll want to keep their passport safely on their body (a jacket inner pocket with a zipper is great for this).
They should also take a paper copy of their passport and store it in their hotel safe in case the original gets lost.
Your college student needs these documents to travel and check into hotels. Without them they’ll be stranded, possibly in a place they don’t know and with nowhere to stay. That’s never a safe situation to be in.
The buddy system is important when your student is traveling. Staying in a group is the best way to avoid becoming the victim of a crime. It’s especially helpful for keeping pickpockets, muggers and other assailants at bay.
It doesn’t matter if they’re just going out for a stroll on the beach or are heading to the club — make sure they travel with a friend.
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Almost time for Spring Break #PaceU!🤗 We're here to keep you safe during your much-needed time off👍 Remember to stay with your group when travelling, especially when riding in cabs/car services🚕 Mom & Dad were right; there’s safety in numbers🥳#PaceUSafety #SpringBreakSafety
On that point, new friends don’t count. If your student meets someone who seems really interesting and fun on their trip, awesome! They just shouldn’t hang out with this new person alone — they should always keep their friends from college close by.
This is a big one, as the price of your student not being careful with their money when traveling is the possibility of getting robbed.
Your student should only carry small amounts of cash on them during their trip, and keep their money in an inner pocket or front pants pocket where it’s out of a pickpocket’s reach.
The cash they won’t need for an outing should stay in the hotel safe. When they need more cash, they can always go to an ATM. But to avoid being followed or robbed, remind them to visit the ATM with friends, especially at night or if it’s in an area with no one else around.
If your student has a credit card or debit card, they’ll need to be careful to make sure they don’t lose it, which could lead to identify theft and lots of expensive charges.
Many college students head someplace warm where they can get in beach and pool time.
While taking a dip in the ocean is refreshing, it can also be dangerous. A strong undertow or a riptide can pull you out further from shore and make it impossible to swim back.
That’s why your student should never swim alone, and especially not after dark or after drinking.
Swimming almost always comes with lots of sun, so remind your student to use plenty of sunscreen. Even on overcast days, UV rays can be harmful to the skin. Sunscreen is easy. Skin cancer isn’t!
A code word can be a good way for your student to indicate to their friends that they don’t feel comfortable or safe and would like to leave wherever they are.
This can be very helpful at a party or nightclub where your student is talking with someone who seems fine at first, but then makes them uncomfortable.
It’s also handy in a taxi or Uber where a member of the group notices that the car isn’t taking them to the destination, or the driver is acting strange or driving unsafely.
When a member of your student’s group uses the code word, it’s a signal to everyone that it’s time to get out of the situation as soon as is safe and possible.
While plenty of college students enjoy spring break without alcohol, talk to your student about safe drinking habits just in case they decide to give it a try.
Remember, you won’t be there to tell them no when they’re presented with the opportunity to drink. If they do decide to drink, you want them to do it responsibly.
The key to drinking safely is moderation. This means no more than one drink (a 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, or 1.5 oz shot) per hour, and no more than 2–4 drinks over the course of a night.
Binge drinking, which means consuming four or more drinks in the course of two hours, can lead to dangerous behavior and poor decision-making. It can also lead to vomiting, loss of consciousness, and worse — car accidents, alcohol poisoning, and more.
Some ways to moderate the effects of alcohol are to eat a meal before you drink, and to stay hydrated throughout an evening by drinking a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage.
Being out in the sun can amplify the effects of alcohol, so your student should be extra careful about how much they drink if they’re out on a sunny day and stay hydrated with lots of water.
If your student is spending time in the ocean, a pool or a hot tub while drinking, they need to be cautious. Hot tubs dehydrate you more, which means the effect of alcohol will be stronger. And in any water, intoxication can lead to drowning or other injuries.
Finally, safe drinking means not leaving your drink unattended. Sadly, use of date rape drugs is not uncommon in college drinking environments — and those drugs are odorless and tasteless. Your student can always ask a friend to hold their drink if they need to set it down. Another option is SWIGSAFE™, a cup designed to prevent binge drinking and drink tampering.
Make sure your student knows not to drink out of punch bowls or open pitchers, which could contain extremely strong volumes of alcohol or have been spiked with dangerous drugs.
If your student notices any of the early symptoms of a date rape drug in themselves or their friends, they need to get to a hospital immediately. These symptoms include wooziness, confusion, slurred talking and difficulty standing.
As parents of college students, we view safe sex just like safe drinking. Whatever they choose to do outside of our purview, we want them to be safe.
The biggest tip here is to use protection. For males engaged in sex, that means always using condoms. They are the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and STDs.
If your student thinks that sex might be a possibility, they should carry condoms, at least two in case one breaks. Students of all gender identities should take responsibility for this.
For oral sex of any kind, as well as sex between females, dental dams are a good option for safer sex.
Just as important as protection is consent. If someone says they don’t want to have sex, that means they don’t want to have sex. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) describes consent as “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.”
A person who is impaired by alcohol or drugs cannot legally give consent, so your student should be sure their partner is willing and enthusiastic and able to give non-impaired consent.
Displaying an expensive watch or necklace is a good way to get robbed. Same goes for expensive clothes or high-end electronics.
If your student insists on traveling with an item of high value, they should lock it in the trunk of their car during travel, and take into the hotel and place it in the safe when they’re not using it.
If your student is going on a long road trip with friends, they should plan to rotate drivers so everyone stays well-rested. A friend should always be awake in the front passenger seat to keep the driver company.
Another good idea is to travel with AAA in case the car breaks down or they get a flat tire. Before they hit the road, they should make sure the car has a spare tire, jack and the tools needed to change a tire. And that someone going on the trip knows how to change a tire!
Finally, this goes without saying but say it anyway: “Don’t drink and drive.”
The first floor of a hotel is more prone to break-ins, because the window is accessible from the ground.
Your student can request a room on the second floor or higher to minimize the chance of their room being broken into.
Underage drinking and drug use are dangers in and of themselves. But they’re also illegal pretty much anywhere your student travels.
There are many other activities that might sound fun on a spring break trip that are also illegal: trespassing, reckless driving, etc.
If your student wants to be able to come home and return to school at the end of spring break, make sure they know and abide by the laws where they’re traveling.
If your student is still making spring break plans, remind them that a wild trip isn’t the only option.
There are lots of fun alternatives to the traditional spring break beach party: outdoor adventure clubs, camping, job shadowing, community service, or even a staycation are healthy, safe ways to enjoy spring break.
Help your student take the best possible care of themselves and get support when they need it.