There’s one thing most Schoolies do which leads to a lot of problems. So why do we let them do it, asks Ann Wason Moore.
There’s one thing most Schoolies do which leads to a lot of problems. So why do we let them do it, asks Ann Wason Moore.

This is the one thing Schoolies shouldn’t get to do

HOW do you solve a problem like Schoolies?

Students want to celebrate, parents want to keep them safe and Surfers Paradise residents just want to leave.

It seems the most sensible suggestion is that proposed by Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia founder Paul Dillon: shorten the seven-day festival to three days.

However, given some of the reactions to this proposal, you'd think there was a call to cancel the whole party - and possibly Christmas as well.

As Mr Dillon himself said: "It's a business, and there is money to be made - which is why we probably won't see shorter packages offered."

But in fact, a three-day Schoolies celebration could actually see an entire new market of potential partiers open up. After all, less time means less money and less risk. That's a perfect proposal for parents.

Our kids deserve to let their hair down after 13 years of formal schooling. But seven nights?

Schoolies on the beach in Surfers Paradise. Picture: Mike Batterham.
Schoolies on the beach in Surfers Paradise. Picture: Mike Batterham.

 

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The prospect has parents tearing out their own hair - they'd rather say no and be the bad guy than allow their kids to come to the Coast.

Speaking to senior students at my children's school, many of them know they'll never make it through the week. They're tired, they're emotional and it's just too much.

Some are skipping festivities altogether, while others are paying for the full week - despite knowing they'll leave after two nights.

I really don't think it's too much to ask our Schoolies providers to at least offer an option for shorter bookings.

There's a fine line between becoming the fun police and ensuring safety - and three days seems to be the demarcation.

But the real conundrum of Schoolies is how to reconcile almost 18 years of careful parenting with the expectation that we then set them loose upon the city.

Given my oldest child will start high school next year, I'm obviously only at the beginning of this journey towards independence and early adulthood. But, oh boy, the view looks terrifying from here.

Isn’t three nights enough for Schoolies? Picture: Mike Batterham.
Isn’t three nights enough for Schoolies? Picture: Mike Batterham.

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Amongst my wider parenting circle, I've heard horror stories of Year 10 parties where parents provide alcohol, of kids who pass out at the post-formal, of drug use and more.

Science says the longer you delay their first drink, the better for their brain. But common sense says you want their first drink to be at home with you - not at a party under intense peer pressure.

So do I advise abstinence and assume my kids aren't affected by the words and actions of their friends? Or do I teach my children how to drink while they're still in school?

The former is unlikely, the latter unpalatable.

The truth is that 18 seems so young for a legal drinking age.

I grew up in Texas where the drinking age was (and is) 21. Sure, there was still under-age drinking - but it was a lot older than the age our kids begin experimenting here.

In fact, Paul Dillon says the American high school student exchange program is all but extinct in Australia due to our drinking culture.

"The American kids don't try alcohol until much later due to the legal drinking age of 21, they would come here and just couldn't handle how much drinking was a part of the student culture.

"So many of them went home early that most high schools have cancelled the program."

Drinking has long been part of Schoolies - but is 18 too young to be able to legally drink? Picture: AAP
Drinking has long been part of Schoolies - but is 18 too young to be able to legally drink? Picture: AAP

American kids, I feel you.

I arrived on the Gold Coast at age 15 and was overwhelmed and intimidated by the use of alcohol by my peers. Maybe I was a nerd, but I was a nerd who really didn't have her first drink until after 18 - and I have the brain cells to prove it.

If we had an older drinking age, it would also mean our Schoolies would be "officially" alcohol-free, instead of the hybrid cohort we currently have where some can cut it in the club and some can't.

Further, it would provide a bigger gap between earning your driver's licence and your seat at the bar. Timing the two close together is a recipe for deadly disaster.

However, given the outrage over the suggestion of shortening Schoolies celebrations, I can only imagine how a conversation about increasing the drinking age would go down: like a lead pint.

At least I have another six years to prepare for our own Schoolies students. Who knows how the party will have changed by then?

I only know one thing for certain: I'll need a stiff drink.