Learning Life’s Lessons

Published in the Courier Mail 28 November 2006

I WAS less than shocked when I read that police had said this was one of the drunkest Schoolies on record.
As a Schoolies volunteer this year, I had watched with sadness as parents checked in their children while carrying in carton after carton of alcohol for them to consume.

While their formal high school education may have finished, there were still lessons that society was teaching them.

There had been warnings in the week leading up to Schoolies that under-age drinkers and those who supply them would be charged.

If we were serious about that, it would have been exceptionally easy to do – just wait at each hotel during check-in time.

But we expect Schoolies to break the law, and taught them that we would ignore the law.

After all, even though it might be illegal, if your parents are supplying the alcohol, obviously you are being expected to drink.

It seems that society’s addiction with alcohol has effectively turned parents into drug pushers.

Dr Christopher Record, a liver disease consultant based in Newcastle who advocates for a change in society’s attitude towards alcohol to mirror concerns over smoking, says: “Society tolerates alcohol abuse. You cannot expect young people not to drink when the whole of society is drinking excessively.”

He’s right of course, but few of us want to listen.

Some of the same parents who supplied the highly alcoholic drinks, were the same who were getting teary at the thought of leaving their kids in such an environment for a week.

Anxiety was etched into their faces as they left.

It puzzles me that mums and dads can drop off their beautiful young daughters and supply them with so much alcohol, knowing what situations that will place their children in.

Why do we make it so hard for parents to say no to supplying alcohol to their kids?

Why do we not support their often unspoken request that their children be able to celebrate the end of school in a safe and healthy environment?

Then, as parents are driving away from the coast, two types of adults are arriving.

One group are the “Toolies” – older people who are there to exploit vulnerable young people.

However, there is another group, increasing every year. They are the Schoolies volunteers who arrive at Surfers Paradise ready to be a helping hand or a listening ear.

Adults of all ages, and from a variety of community organisations, roam the streets ready to offer assistance when needed.

The reception that volunteers get from the Schoolies themselves is one of genuine thankfulness.

They recognise that these people are here to help, and they appreciate it.

They’re also slightly puzzled – why would we spend our own money to go to Schoolies and help?

Why would we place ourselves in sometimes uncomfortable or stomach-churning situations when we’re not getting paid to do so? Why would we give our time to them? Maybe this is one of the other lessons we can teach our young people during Schoolies – that each of us has the power to make choices.

We can be those who live for our own comfort, and ourselves, or we can be those who live generously and help support others.

We can show them that our choices can go against what “everyone” is doing and chart our own purposeful course.

In a society that largely revolves around consumption and self, the idea of self-sacrifice resonates with our young people.

They may be slightly puzzled by it all, but the idea has a certain attraction.

Our young people, by large, are not terrible hooligans.

They are simply trying to work out how to live now in the world we have given them.

We have a responsibility to point them to a life worth living – one of hope, love and generosity. That would be the greatest lesson we can pass on.