Let’s all celebrate some common sense for once

Published in the Courier Mail 8 Dec 08

SUPPLYING a cache of alcohol to your children for Schoolies and Christmas parties has all sorts of unintended consequences. Let’s all celebrate some common sense for once.

We don’t make it easy for parents, do we? Here we are, glamorising alcohol, conveying that a celebration is not a celebration without it.

We let alcohol companies sponsor major sporting events and effectively market pre-mix to young people. And then we ask Mum and Dad to enforce the legislation regarding underage drinking with their children!

It’s not just children who are subject to peer pressure. I’m sure parents have heard, “But my mate’s mum is buying him alcohol for Schoolies!” or, “But my mate’s mum lets him drink at Christmas parties!” more times than they care to count.
However, for those who have children entering Year 12 next year, and those of you who are coming under pressure to let your underage teenagers splurge this Christmas party season, please realise your decisions can have a huge influence on the partying your child does.

As a volunteer at Schoolies, my first impression was that there seemed to be a lot less alcohol around this year. It was a promising start and I’m happy to say many of those young people escaped the week with little more than a headache and some sunburn.

It was the others I remember, though. In the rooms where large quantities of alcohol (supplied by parents) were, we saw very different situations. I remember the young woman who we discovered on the floor of the bathroom, arms cut up and surrounded by blood. Her apartment was littered with pre-mixes and bottles of spirits. She’d had more than 10 sexual partners in the previous few alcohol-soaked days. The emotional fallout of that led to the self-harm and suicidal thoughts. While we were able to get paramedics to attend and help treat her physical injuries, the wounds to her soul will take much much longer to heal.

The sexually transmitted diseases which she may have been exposed to may have permanent consequences.

Then there was the young woman who spent hours crying as she realised she’d had an unplanned and unwanted sexual encounter while drunk. As she was sobering up, the full horror of what had transpired dawned on her and she was distraught.

A young man, after several days drinking, was feeling overwhelmed by memories of an ex-girlfriend. Influenced by the depressive effects of alcohol, he contemplated suicide. He had climbed over the balcony, and was ready to jump before volunteers brought him back in and made sure he was taken care of.

The last night, again in a room filled with bottles of spirits and cans of vodka and soda, we came upon a young woman very drunk, very distraught and self-harming. We called the paramedics, removed the razor blades and other sharp implements and waited, trying to calm and care for her.

Large amounts of alcohol in a Schoolies environment is a dangerous mix. Australian research shows that adolescents are less likely to binge-drink if their parents actively disapprove of such behaviour, while they are likely to drink more if parents have a permissive attitude.

It may make for some difficult conversations and tantrums in the lead-up to Schoolies, but the alternative can be far, far worse.