Guest blogger Paul Dillon shares with Wesley College how to keep your children safe during leavers week.
Schoolies Week (or ‘Leavers’ as it’s called in WA) has been around in one form or another for a long time. When I finished high school, I can remember a range of things that my classmates did in the days or week following the last day of exams. We may not have travelled across the country or overseas, but there has always been some type of celebration or ‘letting off of steam’ at this pivotal time in a teen’s life.
Every year around this time I get emails from both parents and young people on this topic from all over the country, including Wesley College families.
Teens are often reaching out for tips on how to convince their parents they should be able to go (to see my response to that question – have a quick look at my entry on my Real Deal on Drugs blog for young people). While Mums and Dads send emails (usually Mums!) terrified about letting their son or daughter leave home for a week for schoolies.
Typically, they’re looking for advice on whether they should keep their kid home or not. Parents want their child to celebrate with their friends and get the opportunity to feel like an adult, but they are also protective. Most worries come from what they have seen or heard about the schoolies phenomenon.
Why is Leavers so Popular?
These celebrations undertaken once high school has finally ended, have always been regarded as a distinct marker of the transition from childhood to adulthood. I dislike the term, but schoolies events are now regarded by many school leavers as a rite of passage.
One of the main reasons is the commercialisation of Schoolies Week over the past couple of decades. There is big money to make and plenty of businesses ready to take advantage of young people that have money to burn. There are many companies that deal only with leavers events and they promote these aggressively. You only need to watch MTV a couple of times to understand the increasing social pressure on young people leaving school to attend Schoolies Week celebrations in one form or another.
Community and media interest have also grown. And you can guarantee that every year crews of TV reporters will venture up to schoolie hotspots to try to capture the most sensational footage they can. Without fail, they manage to find some young teen who will agree to an interview on national television and talk about their alcohol (and sometimes drug) fuelled week at schoolies. Leading to reinforcing many parents’ belief that the week is out of control and without any merit. Add social media’s influence and media coverage of leavers to the mix and you can certainly see why so many parents decide to keep their children at home.
What Can You do to Prepare Your Child for Leavers?
My advice is to take a moment and sit down with your child and talk through the concerns you have. Then after you have finished, give them the opportunity to let you know how they intend to deal with the potential problems you have raised.
What many parents discover during conversations like this is that we have a generation of young people to be proud of, with many of them doing their very best to look after themselves and their friends. Young people of today definitely don’t know it all, but they do try to reduce the risk of something going wrong the best way they can.
Most importantly, if they do go you need to make sure you repeat the same mantra that you should be saying to them every time they leave the house: ‘You can call me anytime, anywhere. If something goes wrong and you need me – I’ll be there.’
Not surprisingly, there are many young people who decide to leave schoolies events early. Usually this is because:
- They run out of money
- The weather is bad, and they find themselves stuck in a hotel room (or tent) for a couple of days
- They have falling outs with their friends
- They get bored
- The event just simply doesn’t live up to the hype
- They don’t feel safe
When I mention to them that some young people leave early and tell Year 12s to keep their expectations low, you can see that they often don’t believe me. However, I usually end up getting at least a couple of emails every year from teens who write and just say ‘you were right!’
Also, spend time discussing ‘outs’ with them. Should they want to leave for any reason, let them know that you are willing to step in and play the bad guy if they are worried about ‘saving face’ in front of their peers.
If they do find themselves in a situation where they are not getting along with their friends (you’d be surprised at how often this happens!), or they have had a bad experience, they should take comfort in knowing that you will be there to bail them out if they need you… Now, getting in the car and driving down to Dunsborough in the middle of the night is not ideal, but if your child is not feeling safe, you need to make sure you can be there for them.
At the end of the day, all parents want for their teen is to be safe and responsible. Although many leavers have turned 18 by graduation and are considered legally an adult, they are still your child.
Ensuring that you maintain a positive, open dialogue throughout the whole leavers/schoolies process is important. That includes discussing potential risks and strategies for how to handle those risks. Doing so, in a manner that is supportive and non-judgemental, will help you both feel confident in letting them go to leavers. And it will also help in solidifying the next stage of your parent-child relationship.
If you are a parent of a Year 12 student who is going to a schoolies event, I have developed a Checklist for Students, as well as an Information for Parents fact sheet that may be helpful when it comes to planning and discussions. They are both available on the schoolies page on the DARTA website.
This post is updated from a previous article written by guest blogger Paul Dillon of Drug and Alcohol Research Training Australia (DARTA). It was originally published in November 2017.
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