In the Natalee Holloway story, here’s something that no one else has brought up.

Why would any parent allow their kid to go on one of these trips? A vacation like this is nothing more than a spring break trip, which until a few years ago was something you did in college. Now, 18 year olds are going off just days after graduating high school, a hundred at a time, to a place where the drinking age is 18, and they’re a little lax on checking IDs at the bar.

It’s essentially beach at day, party at night, and their parents don’t see the potential for problems. I don’t care if your kid is an honor student, a “good kid.” That’s what they’ve said about Natalee, and she was out partying at a local bar until 1:30am, when she left with three local guys she had just met, and the missing-girl story began.

Why would she do that?

Because 18 year olds are idiots. I was, you were, they all are. At 18, you’re told you’re “an adult,” and given some adult responsibilities, but you don’t really know what it’s like to live in the grown-up world yet. You think you do, you think you know everything, but you don’t. Many of these kids are away from home for the first time without adult supervision — I don’t care how many chaperones there are, they can’t keep track of a hundred 18 year olds! — and, even if they’re not looking for trouble, it will find them.

Given the chance, your average teen wants to act cooler, richer, and older (which is not the same as more mature) than they really are. A co-worker pointed out to me yesterday that trips to places like this used to be activities reserved for the upper-class or for adults who had saved for years. But now we have an entire middle-class generation of kids who have been influenced by MTV’s outrageous spring break antics and the lifestyles of Paris Hilton and her ilk, with parents willing to pay the freight so their kids aren’t left out.

That’s not to say that kids shouldn’t go away at 18, whether it’s off to college, or to do some domestic or international travel, or to enjoy a vacation. But when you send your kid off to a place where there’s very little to do besides hang out in the sun until night falls and the parties begin, you’re being naive to think that your little darling won’t get caught up in the “fun.”

Or don’t you remember what you were like at 18?