This is the time of year when many parents of high school seniors decide whether to let their kids attend (in our area) Beach Week or some version of Senior Week. That’s when, after graduation, tens of thousands of 17- and 18-year-olds pack into rental houses or hotels with their friends to celebrate the end of high school and to usher in new beginnings.
While it’s a wonderful and memorable time for many, with multitudes of teenagers in one place without much adult supervision, things are bound to go wrong, and often do. I’ve heard stories of wild parties, arrests, hospitalizations and lost security deposits, so I wasn’t very excited about the prospect of either of my kids being part of this risky ritual.
When I was a senior in high school in Southern California, all the graduating seniors took a bus from Santa Barbara High School to Disneyland, a three-hour ride. The park stayed open all night for thousands of seniors from high schools all over Southern California. We rode the roller coasters, danced to live music by popular bands, and roamed the park in social packs. We slept soundly the whole way home.
One thing I love about that tradition, now that I think back on it, is that everyone was included. The trip wasn’t prohibitively expensive, and we got to celebrate our graduation together in a way that let us indulge our inner children (an amusement park) but in a grown-up way (staying up all night).
I’m not the strictest parent, and we tend to give our teens plenty of freedom. After all, in a few months, our seniors will be living on their own, mostly unsupervised. So why do I react so negatively to the Beach Week tradition?
It’s not just the inherent physical and legal risks of so many young people staying together in expensive rental properties for a whole week. To me, Beach Week reeks of exclusivity. So many kids (or their parents, depending on who is footing the bill) could never dream of spending $500 or more to spend a week at the beach with friends. And that budget doesn’t include the cost of something going wrong: My friend Melissa’s daughter and her friends had to spend the summer paying off a $5,000 debt after they ruined the carpeting in their rental house.
Of course, some parents cherish the Beach Week tradition. Phil Sturm, a real estate agent in Chevy Chase, Md., has encouraged his daughters to go. “They deserve it. They have worked very hard. If I haven’t yet taught them how to make good choices and how not to screw up, then I haven’t done my job, including teaching them the proper way to party,” Sturm explained.
“If I got to do it, and I turned out okay, and nobody died, they should get to do it. Not to say that I’m not going to give them some ground rules about what they should and shouldn’t be doing when they go on Beach Week,” Sturm continued.
When our son, Solomon, was a senior in high school, I overheard him scheming about Beach Week with a friend when we were driving them to a basketball game. Later that evening, I exchanged emails with a few of his close friends’ parents and found that none of us was very excited about the boys doing Beach Week, but we didn’t necessarily want to forbid it. However, we also had a feeling that, if we left it to them, they might not get their act together to find a house to rent at a price they could afford — let alone pay for other incidental expenses involved with a week at the beach — and get a landlord to rent to a group of kids without a parent signing the lease.
Our approach to Beach Week was:
1) Do not bring it up early or offer to help organize it.
2) When it came up, make it clear that they were on their own in paying for it. And talk to them about how expensive it would be with food and activities in addition to rent (and the possibility of losing their security deposit).
3) Refuse to lie on a lease to say we would be present in the house.
4) Brainstorm with them about alternatives, and offer to contribute to the expenses if they planned a camping trip or something else that didn’t involve thousands of impaired teenagers and a heavy police presence.
In the end, Solomon and his friends decided that Beach Week was too much of a hassle and too expensive. And so they planned a camping trip for a few days instead. I recently asked Solomon if he regretted his decision to go camping. He said he didn’t feel he missed out because he enjoys hiking and a campfire much more than “drinking at the beach.”
Our daughter, Celia, is now a senior and has no interest in attending Beach Week. She said not many kids she knows are going — maybe a sign the tradition is fading. But, she added, “it’s just not my thing. What are you doing besides drinking in a house with your friends for a week? Of course, there’s going to be drama, of course it gets boring. I wouldn’t be opposed to going up for a day or two if my friends were doing Beach Week, but a week is too long.”
Amy Hendrix Smith regrets letting her daughter attend Beach Week in 2011. The risks and stress involved in monitoring her daughter and her friends were too great. And yes, there was even a run-in with police on their last night. In fact, her daughter recently told her, “Beach Week was really a dangerous idea. I can’t believe you let me go. I would have been safer with a train pass and a backpack through Europe.” With their youngest, she decided in advance they would plan a family vacation instead.
Many parents are reluctant to let their kids go after hearing horror stories from other parents or older kids in their families, and many homeowners will no longer rent to teenagers given the property damage that many have experienced. Police in the area are out in force to prevent tragedies, which may also make kids wary of getting in legal trouble before college.
So, I propose an alternative to high school senior Beach Week. After seeing our kids through high school relatively unscathed, perhaps we parents are more deserving of a week at the beach than they are — and we know too well how to empty the garbage and clean the bathrooms before we close up the house. If the teens want to join us at the beach, I’m down with that. As long as they help cook and clean up the kitchen.
Aviva Goldfarb is a food, travel and parenting writer who lives in Chevy Chase, Md. Follow her on Twitter @AvivaGoldfarb. Learn more at http://avivagoldfarb.com/
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