Goodbye Frankie and Annette

 – by Walt Mueller
©2004, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

I was living my mid-1960s childhood when the annual spring break pilgrimage of thousands of college students to Florida’s beaches was portrayed on the big screen by teen heartthrobs Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. The synopsis of the popular 1965 film “Beach Blanket Bingo” describes how Bonehead falls in love with a mermaid, a “not-so-threatening biker terrorizes the beach,” and Frankie and Annette surf and sing. Perhaps the most over-the-edge element of the film was Funicello’s two-piece bathing suit. I’m sure many members of the “older generation” were concerned with the film as it must have seemed to provide evidence of a moral slide among the young.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2003. Hundreds of thousands of college students put aside their textbooks and descended en masse on spring break destinations from Florida, to Texas, to Colorado, to Mexico and dozens of other places near and far. But their textbooks weren’t all they left at home. In a reflection of how our culture has changed, inhibitions – if there are any – were left behind as the revelers engaged in a hedonistic free-for-all that made “Beach Blanket Bingo” look like a time capsule of ancient and morally rigid history. And just like spring break 40 years ago, last year’s undergraduate “fun in the sun” had its film version, too. But rather than portraying a “Beach Blanket Bingo” fictionalized account of college fun, “The Real Cancun” documents in reality TV fashion the adventures of a “wild, hot and outrageous” group of 16 students whose behavior makes Funicello’s four-decade old two-piece look like a housedress! “The Real Cancun’s” synopsis introduces us to Alan, “a non-drinker and virgin just ripe to be corrupted,” the “lady-killer” named Jeremy who is “always on the prowl,” and the “fun-loving” Roxanne and Nicole – twins with a “knack for stripping.” I think back on “Beach Blanket Bingo” and can’t help but wonder … what were the old people so concerned about?!?!?

Perhaps the well-deserved R-rating slapped on “The Real Cancun” best sums up what will be happening over the next few weeks as students descend on spring break destinations near and far. This year’s spring break – like the film – will be rated R for “strong sexuality, nudity, language and partying.” With more college and high school students heading to spring break (and “Senior Week”) destinations, it’s imperative we know what’s happening when they get there so we can prepare them to make wise decisions while preventing them from compromising on matters of right and wrong. If our kids and their peers are acting out anything remotely close to “The Real Cancun,” we should be concerned.

There are several aspects and elements of spring break that warrant our attention and demand a response. First, the underlying philosophy beneath how spring break is both marketed and experienced is basically this – “there are no rules.” At this level, spring break is really no different than any other week of the year. Our culture continues to dismiss objective, transcendent standards of right and wrong as hopelessly obsolete. Instead, each and every individual makes a personal decision on what’s right or wrong for himself or herself based on how they “feel” at any given moment in time. In addition, there are no inconsistencies or contradictions. This “do as you please when you please” ethical system is a surefire recipe for moral anarchy. Many are surprised to learn that even teens and young adults who profess personal faith in Christ don’t think twice about doing “whatever I feel like” while on spring break without ever considering that their behavior might be immoral or wrong. When attending spring break, it’s easy to get caught up in the flow of things and abandon all inhibitions and convictions. That leads to the troubling behaviors that have come to be synonymous with spring break.

Second, there’s the drinking. Many spring break tour packages advertise cheap or free alcohol. In a competition for student dollars, one package even includes “50 hours of free drinking!” A recent study at the University ofWisconsin found that 75 percent of college males and 44 percent of college females reported being intoxicated on a daily basis during spring break. Half of the males and 40 percent of the females reported drunkenness so extreme that they vomited or passed out at least once during the break. A 1998 study from the Journal of American College Health found that the average male spring break attendee drank 18 drinks per day! The average female drank 10. The March 2003 edition of Teen People quotes a Clemson University poll of the 70-plus percent of Clemson students who attend spring break. Of those students, 64 percent of the guys and 51 percent of the girls got drunk at least once. Some 42 percent of those who drink alcohol consume five or more drinks in a night. Twenty percent are either warned or arrested because of alcohol related behavior. Sadly, drug use is rampant on spring break as well. The drugs of choice tend to be marijuana and club drugs like Ecstasy.

Third, increased alcohol consumption leads to decreased sexual inhibitions in a world where those inhibitions are already close to non-existent. Long a spring break staple, wet T-shirt contests are relatively prudish compared to what’s happening today on the beaches and in the clubs. Stripping and dancing contests – along with all sorts of games forcing participants to simulate sex – are common fare. In Mardis Gras fashion, girls readily flash their breasts in exchange for beads. But these public displays are only the start. Couples and groups engage in a variety of more intimate sexual behaviors including oral sex and intercourse. The Clemson study found that 42 percent of guys and 22 percent of girls fooled around with someone they met during spring break. My guess is that those figures grossly underestimate the amount of spring break sexual activity. Of particular concern are the forced sexual encounters or “date rapes” that take place as guys take advantage of drunken females or girls who have been unknowingly drugged with tasteless and odorless date rape drugs. Even those who choose not to drink can fall victim to the dangerous behaviors of those who choose to drink and drive.

Fourth, spring break is a time ripe for students to become victims off crime. Along with a multitude of travel scams, theft and destructive behavior are rampant. Not only are hotel rooms robbed, but they are often trashed or destroyed by occupants who show little or no respect for property.

Finally, spring break is a time for marketers to line up their sights on young attendees. Capturing the heart of a young person and gaining their loyalty to their particular brand/product leads numerous companies to set up shop on streets and beaches or in clubs. College and high school students are preparing to make money and they want to make lots of it. In our material-oriented culture they’re also deciding where they’re going to spend those hard-earned dollars. Everything from alcohol, to clothing, to cigarettes, to credit cards, to food, to music is advertised and given away during spring break. It’s a marketer’s bonanza. Sadly, what’s given away more than anything else is the sad notion that “things bring happiness.”

So how should we respond to our kids’ growing affinity to participate in spring break? First, we need to realize that education about the dangers of spring break and senior week should begin at a young age. And rather than doing nothing more than pronouncing a negative “it’s bad” judgment on spring break, we should bring the light of God’s Word to bear on those aspects of spring break that are wrong and immoral. We should teach and model a high regard for God’s Word and our responsibility to engage in grateful obedience to the one who gave His Son for our salvation. We should teach and model a biblical sexual ethic. We should discuss and model a lifestyle of freedom from alcohol dependence and abuse. Building a strong foundation is the best way to pave the way for our kids to choose an alternative spring break activity, or alternative activities while on spring break.

Second, we should continue to warn our children who choose to go on spring break of the dangers – both moral and physical – that they will encounter. The fact of the matter is that our young adult children are on their own and are making their own decisions. Some will choose not to go. Others will. If our relationship with them is healthy, respectful and loving, they will value our opinions highly. Hopefully, they will choose to avoid putting themselves in situations where compromise might come easily. Some may even be strong enough to attend but resist falling into temptation. For those who choose to go, we must exercise our parental right and responsibilities, acting out of love by warning and admonishing where necessary.

Third, we must pray for our kids, not only during the decision-making process, but after their decision has been made. If they’ve decided to go, you can be sure they’ll face many difficult decisions over the duration of their trip. In my case, I always boldly pray that my kids would be absolutely miserable if they choose to walk a path outside of God’s will and absolutes.

Fourth, we must always remind our believing children of the need to integrate their faith into all of life. Yes, there are rules. With the help of the Holy Spirit they can be consistent. God grieves over our inconsistency. Challenge them to prayerfully seek God’s will and live with a consistent faith that directs their every thought, word and deed.

And finally, challenge them to “run the race” by throwing off everything that will hold them back and the sin that so easily can wrap around their feet to trip them up. Whether it’s sexual immorality, drunkenness, selfishness or materialism – our kids need to learn how to recognize and avoid the traps.

Last year, I logged onto a Web site advertising a spring break vacation package. It billed itself as “the ultimate site for college students who … just can’t stop thinking about spring break all year long!!” The site goes on to advertise every college student’s “ultimate dream vacation.” What’s it like? According to the site, it’s “an escape from reality … admittedly filled with beaches, endless nights of music, partying, sex, and anything but textbooks!” For a college or high school student that’s very appealing. How sad. Let’s pray that our kids would desire to make good and Godly decisions – decisions that will lead them to tap into the wonderful reality of life lived to the glory of God. That, and only that, is the ultimate!


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