A teacher speaks: chalk schoolies up to experience
The last few weeks have seen the annual surge of stories talking about the dangers facing young adults celebrating the end of their compulsory schooling.
Most of the headlines have been taken up with reports on the tragic fatal electrocution of a young man in Bali. However, coming close behind have been a glut of current affairs pieces, garnished with a menacing techno soundtrack, detailing the many and varied ways Australia’s sons and daughters can either have their lives ruined or cut short during Schoolies.
Predictably, parents across the nation have made public their fear and reluctance to allow their offspring to go let off a little steam, far away from the stress that has been their constant companion for the last couple of years.
I get it, I really do.
While I don’t have kids, I’m a high school teacher. Every time I take kids past the school gates I am instantly aware of the rather large array of obstacles, pitfalls and bloody accidents waiting to befall the little darlings.
Every excursion to the museum is an installment in the Final Destination series for me. Quite aside from exterior threats, I know that even kids from very good schools - especially those from very good schools - need to be constantly watched to stop them from fighting, fornicating or setting things on fire.
I understand the fear. As I’m the legal guardian for fifty or sixty kids, six hours a day, I hope it never goes away.
However, we do really need to weigh up whether that fear is helpful when it comes to young people experiencing, what is for many, their first taste of “adult” life.
We talk a lot about young people developing resilience and we make rancorous noises about the kids of today lacking a certain ticker. We bemoan their laying in front of the widescreen tv, trying to get that killstreak in MW3.
Every so often, some well-meaning child psychologist will give them a new disorder or identify some deficiency that means they’re unable to get up, get out there and grapple with the challenges of employment, relationships and the breakneck pace of the 21st century.
Who can blame them? We box our young people in, hesitant to let them out to explore out of the fear that what we see happening to a grieving family on our television screens will happen to our own. A couple of young people meet terrible accidents in a certain locale, God forbid, and that place becomes anathema for the parents of Australia when their kids start talking about what they’re going to do at the end of the year.
What we need to realize that the world is a dangerous place, no matter where we go. Objects lying around our own homes will kill us half a dozen ways, given the opportunity. According the ABS, 25 per cent of young people will injure themselves in some way and most of those incidents will happen during their leisure time. Taking it easy can be deadly.
You don’t need to travel to a developing country, or even as near as the Gold Coast to put yourself in danger.
We also need to realize that yes, kids on Schoolies will drink, mostly to excess. They’ll take drugs. Some will have brief, messy fumblings in a hotel room bed.
Isn’t it better that we know exactly when that is going to happen, so we can focus our drug and sex education strategies accordingly? Isn’t it better to have that (incredibly awkward) discussion about sex, drugs and responsibility freshly rattling around the heads of our kids as they board the plane towards sun, surf and stubbies?
If they are, as we say, young adults, then shouldn’t we give them the benefit of the doubt, when it comes to a little partying?
The alternative is that our young people will be forced to negotiate those challenges at a later stage, with a lot less preparation. Taking something away from a young person gives it an allure and a cachet that means they’ll fall over themselves to indulge in it the minute older and wiser backs are turned. That’s when accidents, big or small are more likely to happen.
There’s a lot for parents to worry about as they send their kids off over the next month and they can be forgiven for being a little reluctant in letting them go. However, it is in the best interests of all of us to let them have that first small bite of the delights of adult life before they throw themselves in fully.
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