Is it really worth risking this reckless spewfest?
Maybe I am just getting old, but I am really struggling to find firm evidence to support the claim that this year’s Schoolies Week celebrations are more sedate and more responsible than ever before.
Schoolies 2012 was billed as the year when the kiddies of Australia would show themselves in a more mature and dignified light, when the celebrations would be marked by a more sensible approach to drinking and partying.
Demographers such as David Chalk and Bernard Salt said last week that one of the defining features of Gen Y was that it was hyper-informed about risky behaviour, be it the dangers of binge-drinking, casual drug use, or the threat of date rape from the sexually predatory “toolies” who like hang around the periphery of the schoolies celebrations.
“Information, education, media awareness and greater policing have impacted schoolies and their parents about excessive and extreme behaviour,” Salt was quoted as saying. “We’re seeing moderated behaviour as a consequence and the recklessness is being reined in.”
Salt’s remarks were made before the celebrations began. While media coverage inevitably tends to highlight the worst cases of behaviour, it is hard to argue that Salt’s cheery prognostications have been born out by subsequent events. A few police in charge of overseeing the mayhem have commented that there has been a slight reduction or stabilisation in the number of arrests made at some Schoolies venues, which is probably good news. But overall, it looks no different and in some ways even worse than the annual sexually-charged spewfest it has always been.
Bali has emerged as the new focus of much of the carry-on. In one sense it is a heartening demonstration of the Australian spirit that exactly 10 years after the 2002 Bali bombings so many young Aussies and their parents will thumb their noses at terror warnings and head north to the island where 202 people, 88 of them Australians, were murdered by al Qaeda. Less thrilling is the reality of what so many of them actually get up to when they are there. The marriage of technology and the unchecked consumption of vast amounts of booze has seen an explosion in the number of kids posting shots of themselves or their comatose mates online, with many of the images emanating from Bali, featuring shots of nude blokes standing on table-tops in crowded bars, girls lying facedown on the carpet of some $30 bucks a night Kuta dosshouse, and so on. Things are just as daggy at home, with venues from Byron Bay to Victor Harbour providing similar scenes.
One of the trickiest questions parents will face is the request from their child to take part in Schoolies Week. The question has at its heart the tension between wanting your kids to experience life and not be wrapped up in cotton wool, versus the reality that however well you have brought them up, they will inevitably end up being drunk and in an environment where through peer group pressure they could be led astray, or preyed on by older people with sinister motives.
Whether we like it or not, one of the defining things about Australia is the well-established link between alcohol consumption and celebration. All the milestones and markers in our lives are defined by an association with booze, be it turning 18 or 21, bucks nights and hens nights, winning a football premiership, or even coming last and drowning your sorrows on the end of year footy trip. Indeed many of the parents who find themselves erring on the side of caution and telling their kids that they can’t go to the Gold Coast or Torquay probably finished the evening having one glass of shiraz too many with their adult friends. It is for this that the handy phrase “do as I say not as I do” was invented.
As parents you can probably just hope that your kids will themselves be put off by the more ludicrous behaviour that defines so much of Schoolies Week and will decide to do something different with their mates instead. It might be a somewhat forlorn hope given that kids yearn for a sense of inclusion, and would probably still want to go anyway to be a part of the gang.
Happily I am still some years off having this fraught conversation with my kids. On the basis of what I have seen every year, even in this supposedly enlightened and responsible new age of celebration, I am inclined to pencil in Schoolies Week as the one big stink I am prepared to have with the kids, and not let them go. Not because I don’t trust them, but because I don’t trust the other people who will be around them, at a time when their senses will inevitably be dulled.
You want your kids to take some risks, but it just seems with this event that the risks are too great. They might regard you as a stick in the mud or a spoilsport at the time but down the track I reckon they would regard it more as an act of kindness that you stepped in and vetoed it. There are plenty of kids who get arrested, thumped, injured or attacked each year through no fault of their own, and who if they had their time over would most definitely have refused to take part. Not to mention the kids who in these digitally-driven times end up with images of themselves face down on the carpet going viral for the whole world to see.
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