Friday, October 23, 2009

Should teens holiday alone.

Sun, sea and teens let loose

They should be thinking about their studies but many students are already planning their post-exam breaks. Are they really ready for it? Sue Leonard speaks to one mother and daughter

By Sue Leonard

Monday September 21 2009

The post-Leaving Certificate holiday has become a rite of passage. Parents worry about it, but accept that once teens have left school, it's time for some independence. So, what if they fancy a pre-Leaving Cert holiday without you? Should you let them go?

"It depends on the teenager," says Lloyd Byrne, National Childline manager with the ISPCC.

"It's not so much the age, as the level of maturity.

"Some 16- and 17-year-olds are wise, and very mature; and some 18- and 19-year-olds may not be. It's about parents knowing their children and knowing where they are going."

It is harder to say no, he says, when they fund themselves.

We encourage our children to be responsible, to earn money and to make their own decisions, so if they save to go on holiday should we allow that?

"It's up to the parents. A lot of young people, abroad, drink and party to a level where their decision might be compromised, but that can happen on the streets of Dublin as well.

"It helps when children have confidence. If they are informed of the consequences of their actions, and are used to making decisions for themselves, they are more alert to the dangers out there."

The MUM Susan Clark

When Susan Clark's daughter Sophie (17), asked if she could go on a fifth-year holiday to Puerto Banus, Susan hesitated.

"She said that there were four of them getting an apartment together. I was reluctant to say no, especially as there were two mothers with other kids going to the complex.

"I rang one of the mothers. and she said that they were not going to be minding them. I understood that. But I decided to let Sophie go because I trust her. Over the years, I have said that I would expect my children to behave in a certain manner, and I hope they do. You hope the 17 years she had spent with us will count for something.

"Then, though, the plans changed. Two of the girls dropped out because their parents wouldn't let them go.

"I talked to one of those mums, and she asked me if I knew that boys were also going. I discussed it with my husband, Martin, and we decided we'd still let her go. There wasn't an apartment available but, through a friend, we found a hotel at half-board, a bit away from the main group.

"They were to take taxis, and they were to stick together and mind each other," says Susan.

"And she was to text us to say things were ok. I said to her: 'If you don't text, and from your own phone, I will be worried. And I don't want to worry because I want you to have a good time.'

"If Sophie had asked to go away at 16, I don't think I would have allowed her to go.

"I have five children. Sophie and her twin, Hannah, are my youngest. The other three never went away before they were 18. But when I was Sophie's age, I had done my Leaving Certificate and was at liberty. That influenced my decision."

Sophie has always been independent. She first went to the Gaeltacht at nine. She worked as an au-pair in Spain at 15 for a family she and her parents knew well; and at 16, she went to learn French in Biarritz. And she's at Wesley College as a boarder.

"I think being away from home does help their independence," says Susan. "I haven't packed a case for the girls for years.

"I am aware of the dangers though. When we drop their sisters at the airport, I've always said to the girls to just look around the airport. See all these lovely teenagers going off excited. Some may not come back. They may be murdered; fall off rocks, drown or be hit by scaffolding. I'd say that's your job to come back to us safe.

"I used to say don't drink, and they would reply but all our friends do. I said 'then change your friends' but realised I was wasting my time.

I explain that there is pressure to drink, because then, if there is trouble, the guilt is shared. And I stress that they must be careful not to get 'out of it'. They must take care to keep themselves safe.

"When Sophie was packing, I asked her if she was looking forward to it and she said: 'Oh mummy, I haven't been this excited since we went to Tunisia.' That would have been her first family holiday away.

"She was abroad for six days. Since she came home , she hasn't talked much about it. She was pleased to see us at the airport. That was a good sign. It seemed to go well. She enjoyed herself and came back safe.

"I haven't quizzed her about it. I assume she will tell me, but I don't expect her to tell me an more than I'd have told my parents. And would I want to know?"

The daughter

Sophie Clark

'One of my friends at school has an apartment in Puerto Banus. She said that a big group of us should go over. Mum seemed happy when there were going to be four of us in an apartment, but I expected an argument when two of the girls dropped out.

"Surprisingly there wasn't that much. She knew I was sensible, and she stressed what I should and should not be doing. She liked my friend, and said we should stick together. She trusted me that I would.

"Mum paid for my holiday, and my friend funded her own.

"We went from July 13 until July 20. It was just the two of us flying. We were so excited.

"I wouldn't let my dad come into the airport. We flew Aer Lingus, and we had to make our own way to the hotel.

"I'd researched that on the internet the night before. We couldn't find the shuttle bus, so we got a bus to Marbella, then a taxi to the hotel.

"The room had an entrance to the outside. We bought food and ate in there. It was basic, but nice. Everything was cheap there. We had a great time. We sunbathed during the day, and we met up with the others at night. There were nine other girls from school, and five boys. I was happy it was just the two of us.

"We'd get up at 11 or 12 after being out until around 5am. I got drunk, basically, every night. I didn't overdo it though.

"One night we got a random knock on the door. We thought it was the cleaning staff so we opened it, but it was this weirdo saying 'do you want to get some beer with us?' We shut the door. That was the only scary thing to happen to us.

"The best thing about the holiday was having the independence from our parents. That was really good.

"All the other girls had to stick together and be home at a certain time. We didn't have to stick with a group.

"Next year a group of us plan to work in Puerto Banus.

"Then we'll go on the Leaving Certificate holiday to Crete, or wherever the schools go."

Sue Leonard

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