It’s almost that time of the year again.
Teenagers from all over the country will travel to the Gold Coast from the end of November until early December for weeks of partying and drug use, after the completion of their high school exams. Seen as a rite-of-passage for Australian teenagers, Schoolies has grown from a local celebration in the 1970s to a multi-million-dollar tourism event, but to what end?
Majority of schoolies are aged just 17 and are too young to gain entry into clubs, but they are still able to readily access copious amounts of alcohol which they tend to drink in the street or at organised events. Each year there are multiple reports of arrests due to violence, disturbing incidents of sexual assaults, disorderly conduct and even death.
In 2012, Isabelle Colman aged just 17 fell to her death from the 26th floor of her Gold Coast high-rise apartment. In 2013 police warned inebriated teenagers not to 'balcony hop', the practice of leaping from one balcony to another. In 2014, there were 317 arrests for balcony hopping in one week.
Now we have the news that no amount of health warnings will deter teenagers from binge drinking. A new study has assessed how effective safe-drinking messages are - and the answer is, not at all. The results - which have been published in the Australian Journal of Primary Health and reported in The Age - found that most teens plan to get wasted each and every night of Schoolies and 0% seek health advice on the consequences of their excessive drinking.
Organisations such as charity Red Frogs do their best to keep partying teenagers safe. For the past 15 years, Red Frog workers have handed out information and assisted any teenager they find in need of assistance however even they have their hands full with the ever increasing attendance and number of incidents that occur.
Schoolies has become a multi-million dollar industry and disturbing images such as these are common. Article continues after this video.
I'm not blaming the teenagers. They are young and are prone to make terrible decisions in regards to their lives and personal safety. All parents of teens know this. With this in mind, who can every think Schoolies is a good idea? Consider recent research on the teenage brain? Author and neurologist Frances Jensen became so alarmed at the behaviour of her teenage sons that she embarked on a study of ten years of brain research and made a startling discovery: She found that the frontal lobe of the teenage brain isn't fully developed, and won't be fully developed until the age of 25. The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that connects the action with the consequence of that action.
Through her findings, discussed in her book The Teenage Brain, Jensen concludes that parents have to act as their teenager's frontal lobe until they are able to fully comprehend the possible consequences of their actions.
Add to this the fact that binge drinking has become a major health issue in Australia, with experts warning that our culture of binge drinking is doing harm. Australian Medical Association vice-president Stephen Parnis recently told ABC News that Australia's relationship with alcohol is "extremely unhealthy" and that it causes more harm than all the drugs combined.
"There is still significant pressure not just to drink, but to drink to excess," he said. "There is ignorance within the Australian population [to] what constitutes a safe amount of alcohol, and most people underestimate their intake."
What message does it send to teenagers who are at an incredibly vulnerable time of their lives, with frontal lobe issues, to condone something like Schoolies week were everybody knows the aim is to get smashed each and every night, as part of some sort of deranged celebration over the fact that school is over? There are so many problems with this but the two main issues for me are:
- We are teaching them that it is okay to drink to excess in order to celebrate;
- We are promoting the misconception now that high school is over, it's party time. School was that bad.
Both of those messages are doing our children an incredible disservice, however it's hard to blame parents for "letting" their teenagers attend. Parents live the high school exams with their children and are often equally relieved they are over. The last thing they want to do after accompanying their teens on this stress-filled journey is to then stop them from celebrating but why is Schoolies seen as the ultimate celebration for teenagers leaving school? Doesn't it make more sense for parent groups to think of possible alternatives that their teenagers as well as their friends can participate in, that are safer?
I can think of so many alternatives to Schoolies and none of them involve binge drinking, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, vomiting in the street, being arrested, falling off balconies and acting like idiots. And it goes further than just Schoolies. Considering the scientific fact that our brains aren't fully developed until 25, should we be considering increasing the legal drinking age to at least 21 and even reconsider allowing teenagers to be able to obtain their driver's licences at such a young age?
If we are to do as Jensen suggests and act as our teenager's frontal lobes until they are able to think for themselves, don't we owe it to them to protect them from any and all dangerous and irresponsible behaviour, including attendance at Schoolies?
By facilitating teenagers attendance at Schoolies we are endorsing all of their stupid behaviour. Parents ring their children three times a day to check if they are okay. Doesn't it make more sense to prevent them from attending in the first place?
In a couple of week's time images of Australian teenagers fighting in the street, vomiting in gutters and screaming like demented animals into any camera pointed in their direction will be beamed across news sites around the world. We'll shake our heads and even chuckle. Drunk teenagers, so funny.
It's not funny. It's disturbing. Schoolies needs an urgent rethink and it couldn't happen sooner.