5 Ways to Help Your Teen Stay Sober Over Summer Break

Summertime: For many families, it’s a time of enjoying the long, sunny days with get-togethers, parties, and no early bedtimes for the kids. Teenagers in particular like the extra freedom that comes with not being in school. They might spend their days at the beach, having pool parties, and simply hanging out with friends. There are often graduation parties, 4th of July parties, and just-because parties. With summer often comes reduced supervision of teenagers. Unfortunately, this can be a recipe for disaster; teens might be more likely to drink alcohol, try drugs, and generally get into trouble. Here are some tips on how you can help your teens stay sober and safe over summer break.

1. Know Where They Are and Whom They Are With

It can be easy to loosen your reins during the summer. After all, your teen doesn’t have to get up early for school, and he or she probably has few obligations during the day. While you’re at work, your teen is largely unsupervised. Most parents do not hire a sitter for their teenagers. While all of this is reasonable, be aware that if your teens aren’t supervised, they’re more likely to get into trouble. Some of this trouble might be drinking and experimenting with drugs.

One way your can help your teen stay sober during the summer is to have them provide you with a loose itinerary of where he or she will be and who they’ll be with each day. If plans change, tell your teen to text you to let you know. Just knowing that you are aware of where they are and who they are with can be a deterrent to bad behavior. Also, talk to your teen later to find out how his or her day was, whether they liked the movie they went to see, who won the bowling game, and so on. Knowing that you will check up on them later can help keep your teen honest.

2. Set Clear Boundaries and Consequences

While your teen might not agree with everything you say, it’s very likely that they want your approval. To help your teen stay sober, it’s important to set clear boundaries that show your teen exactly what you expect. These should be measurable and specific. For example, say, “you are not allowed to drink any alcohol,” or “you must let me know if you change locations when you are with your friends.” This eliminates the possibility of your teen getting into trouble and then claiming that they didn’t know what they were doing was against the rules.

If your teen does break the rules, it’s equally important to have solid, firm consequences. Make sure that they are age-appropriate and that they make sense. For a teen who is experimenting with alcohol, it’s logical and reasonable that you would not trust them, so grounding would make sense. You can’t let them go out if you don’t trust them to keep themselves safe.

Punishments should be short-term, however, unless there is a legitimate safety or legal concern. Grounding your teen for a week is reasonable; grounding him or her for the whole summer is not, because when they have nothing to lose, there’s no reason for them to follow the rules.

3. Set a Good Example

As you already know from parenting your child to this point, your words don’t mean anything if your actions don’t match. While you are an adult and you can choose to drink if you want to, it’s important to do so responsibly. Show your teen that you always use a designated driver if you are drinking away from the home. Also, don’t overindulge or use any illegal substances. You might not think your teen wants to emulate you, but he or she is watching.

4. Keep Them Busy

One of the best ways to help a teen stay sober over summer is to keep them busy. A bored kid is more likely to get into trouble than a busy one. By keeping them busy with healthy activities, there will simply be no time for drugs or alcohol use. Also, the sense of camaraderie enjoyed by a group of friends who are all focused on the same goal, as they are with a sports team or a theater program, can help dissuade teens from getting into dangerous activities.

Look and see what is available in your community. A teen who plays sports during the school year can often find an athletic camp catering to his or her specific interests during the summer. There are often theater and dance camps available during the summer months, too, sometimes culminating in an end-of-summer show or recital. An older teen can get a job to keep busy, and a teen too young for an official job might enjoy babysitting or being a mother’s helper. If nothing else, encourage your teenager to hang out at the homes of friends whose parents are aware of what they are doing.

5. Be Aware of the Signs of Alcohol or Drug Use

It’s important to know the signs of drug and alcohol use so you can step in and intervene if you do suspect that your teen is not staying sober over summer break. Some signs are obvious: If your teen is coming in stumbling and reeking of alcohol, that’s a pretty clear sign. Bloodshot eyes, nosebleeds, and an uncharacteristically disheveled appearance can all be symptoms of drug use.

Other symptoms are not as clear-cut. For example, your teen might:

  • drop some old friends in favor of new ones
  • be more moody than usual
  • have a hard time keeping a part-time job

Grades often drop when a teen is using substances, but this is not generally detectable during the summer. Keep in mind that the signs of experimenting once or twice with alcohol can be different from the signs of a chronic problem or an addiction.

If you do suspect that your teen has a problem with drugs or alcohol, his or her primary care doctor can help and refer you to the appropriate specialist. A mental health professional can work with a teen who has experimented to help him or her get back on track. In some cases, an inpatient rehab program might be necessary.

Being aware of what your teen is doing and setting up clear boundaries and sensible consequences can go a long way in helping your teen to stay sober this summer. Talk to other parents in your area to see what they are doing and to find out if you can all join forces to keep your community’s teens safe.