Should I let my teenager go to Ultra?

The Ultra Music Festival is the nation’s largest electronic music festival.  It takes place yearly over a two week period in Miami.  This year it is expected to attract about 160,000 young people from all over the country.  It is a popular event for teenagers to attend because of the festive atmosphere and the large array of trendy electronic music available.  However, Ultra does have a dark side.  Drugs are rampant and easily available.  Last year Miami Dade police reported that 45 drug related arrests were made during one weekend of the music festival.  Madonna, who performed at the festival last year, even made a drug reference on stage asking “Has anyone seen Molly?”  Molly being the street name for MDMA, or ecstasy. 

So, should you let your teenager go to Ultra?  That depends very much on what you consider your teenager’s maturity level to be and on how much you trust them to make the right decisions about drugs.  You can be sure that if they go there is a very high chance that they will find themselves in a position to take or buy drugs and that they will see people very high on drugs appearing to be enjoying themselves without negative effects.  That, together with the seemingly consequence-free environment of one of the largest music festivals in the country, can make the temptation to throw caution to the wind very intense. 

However, it is possible to have safe and clean fun at Ultra.  For teenagers who have no history of drug abuse and tend to be responsible the experience can even be educational.  Actually seeing someone very high can be a turn off for some teenagers and just as surely as they will see drug use chances are that they will also see or at least hear about the consequences of drug use.  People on drugs at Ultra have been sent to the hospital for drug related health issues, been taken advantage of in many disturbing ways, and have been arrested for a variety of illegal actions including possession. 

Something that parents tend to ask me when faced with this decision is whether they should go with them or not.  In my opinion the more conflicted parents are about whether to go with their teenagers or not the more compelling the case is for them to go.  If teenagers refuse to go because you will be there it could be a sign that they are planning to do things that they believe you will not approve of.  Remember that if your teenager is planning to do something reckless you probably won’t know because of what they are saying, but you might feel it in your bones.  Listen to your gut on this one. 

If you decide to let your teenager go to Ultra I recommend that you explain your concerns about the drug use at the festival and make it very clear that they are not allowed to use any drug of any kind for any reason.  You may insist that they periodically keep in touch through a cell phone and explain that breaking the rules will result in severe consequences.  Make sure you are specific about the consequences, so your teenager knows what’s at stake.  If you find yourself feeling conflicted and overly anxious remember that it’s OK to say “No, you can’t go to Ultra.”

In a nut shell my advice is the following.  Letting your kid go to Ultra is a high risk move.  If you don’t trust them to handle it maturely then say “NO”.