Published in the Courier Mail 27 Nov 04
LAST week was a significant milestone in the life of thousands of young people. As I sat in a final Year 12 assembly, there were many tears (mainly from the girls) and there were many laughs (mainly from the boys).
They reminisced about the era that was ending and looked with anticipation towards the next stage in their life. There they were, young men and women ready to take their place in society (as soon as Schoolies was over, of course).
The class of 2004 has been praised for its behaviour at end of year celebrations. The crowd has been well behaved and even though we have encountered a few disturbing new trends, such as the rise of pre-schoolies, arrests have been minimal.
In all the coverage though, one trend is emerging. From parents who are being led around the bottle shop to buy copious amounts of alcohol for their underage children, to youth “experts” making absurd complaints, we are being faced with a monster of our own making. This monster is a culture of indulgence.
While Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott may be concerned, and rightly so, about a prevalent culture of convenience, it appears we may have gone well beyond that.
A youth worker who is less concerned about what schoolies do but “where they do it”, was quoted as being worried about harsh house rules that hotels impose upon young people. His concern was that schoolies were being forced to have underage sex in places he deemed unsafe — such as on the beach or in the toilets. According to this youth worker, if they attempt this in their hotel room, they risk getting evicted.
Let’s reflect for a moment. Underage young people, mostly intoxicated, are having sex, possibly with people they have only just met — and our concern is that they might get evicted?
I think eviction is the least of their worries. Sexually transmitted diseases could be a cause for concern. An alarming number of these can lead to infertility and the current infection rate is staggering.
What about the emotional fall-out? We rarely discuss what regular sexual activity does to a young person’s psyche. However, a 1999 study by the American Journal of Health Behavior shows teenage girls who have sex with more than one partner in a short period of time are likely to engage in other risky behaviours such as fighting, binge drinking, smoking cigarettes, using cocaine or sniffing glue.
NO ONE is forcing young people to have sex in unsafe places. In fact, no one is forcing them to have sex at all. While it may seem an alien idea to many in our society, young people do, in fact, have the choice to abstain from sexual activity until they marry. They can even choose not to drink or wait until it’s legal and then drink responsibly.
But our society doesn’t make those choices very easy for them. We continue to celebrate a culture of indulgence.
We live in a culture that expects excess. Our appetites are constantly being whetted as our consumer-driven society feeds our desires for more. As we throw off the notion of moral responsibility, we license our young people to do the same and, in doing so, place huge amounts of pressure on them to quickly gratify their desires. We lack the moral courage to challenge unsafe behaviour and, instead, simply attempt to minimise the fall-out.
Instant gratification is a difficult task master. As we indulge our materialistic and sexual whims, we feed them and strengthen their influence over us. We revel in our “freedom”, yet have a nagging feeling that we are little more than participants in a social system that keeps us busy pursuing more — more pleasure and more money — while distracting us from the emptiness of our soul.
It was Helen Keller who said: “Many people have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
The language of fidelity, however, is one that we are quickly forgetting how to speak, and seem unwilling to be schooled in.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves what the greater tragedy is this Schoolies. Is it that underage sex and drinking are occurring? Or is it that society’s tacit permission has encouraged it?