Teens holidaying without parents for the first time: Five go to Newquay
The words Newquay and holiday are guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of most parents. The annual exodus of thousands of post-GCSE teenagers to Cornwall, or other seaside resorts, is a rite of passage not only for them but for their parents.
I felt lucky that my son decided to opt for Brighton instead, although the following year it was Amsterdam.
That first holiday without Mum or Dad is an inevitable step our children will take, but each summer, horror stories involving drink, cliffs and water are never out of the news. The reality is that most teens have a great time and return home safely.
So how can you ensure that they will be safe?
Who is going?
Many parents agree that keeping the group small works best. If you are going to be taxiing them to the station or airport it becomes much more complicated if there are more than five or six people meeting up – or even turning up late, after the train has gone. It is also harder for them to agree on issues if the group is too large - disagreements can break out more easily.
Meet the parents
Getting to know your teen's friends' parents is a good idea. Hopefully, you will know your son or daughter's friends, but if not - this is a good time to meet them. You might need other parents for back-up if any emergencies do occur, so a barbeque or a pub lunch beforehand is worth considering.
Talk, talk, talk
It is never a good idea to preach to your teenager. They will just say you are nagging, and be tempted to push those boundaries. But they desperately want to be trusted - and having the odd scrape is part of growing up. Tell them about your mistakes - we've all made them!
However, you do need to talk about how they would react if possible situations arise.
Ask them how they would behave in various situations.
What happens if:
• One of their friends drinks so much they are unconscious, or someone has a nasty tummy bug?
• Their phone or money is stolen, or their phone packs up.? How will you contact each other?
• Is there a landline where they are staying?
• Have you got their friends' phone numbers?
• Do they have your friends' numbers in case they can't reach you?
• Do they know where the nearest hospital is, or the local doctors?
• Do they know basic first aid and have they packed a simple first aid kit?
How much contact
Agree how much contact you are going to have. You might be happy to have an "I've arrived" text, or maybe you would like a text every day. They will probably not thank you for those "Hi, it's Mum here," calls when they are having a great time with their mates.
When my son cycled from Lands End to John O' Groats we waited anxiously each evening for his call. So agree when you will contact each other and how often. This also alerts you to any possible problems if you don't hear from them.
Has your teen got ICE in their phone contacts? In Case of Emergency is recognised by the emergency services. If someone is unconscious the emergency services will check their phone for contacts. Before they go, ask them to add the numbers of you and other friends or relatives who can be contacted in an emergency.
Although your teen will be holidaying with friends, a taste of freedom can change behaviour. What will they do if the group wants to do something they think is unsafe? Can they cope with being different? Talk about the dangers of being out alone in unfamiliar surroundings, and staying safe if they are alone at all.
It would be great if every day was spent on the beach under blazing sun. But what if it rains every day? What would they do if it was too wet or cold to be outside? Lots of teens go camping for their first holiday. Wet tents, wet clothes and too little cash are bad combinations. Think about transport facilities to other towns where there may be more things to do.
Where are you Mum and Dad?
If you don't have any other children at home, it's so tempting to want to use your week of freedom too. But if you go away, are you contactable? If you are needed at short-notice, can you get back?
Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll
You will have been making your children aware of the dangers of unprotected sex, or drug taking for years. So spare them the lectures and focus on the practical. One parent told me that she asked quite casually, when out shopping with her son, if he needed any condoms to pack with his camping gear. You might not be as up-front as that, and not every teenager is looking for a holiday romance. But talking about STIs and the risks of unprotected sex is not something you can ignore.
Don't spend the week worrying about what they are up to. If you have some time to yourself, fill it with things you enjoy doing. And then wait for the suitcase full of dirty washing!
What age did you let your teen holiday without you?