In the leadup to Schoolies celebrations, parents should sit down and discuss drugs and alcohol with their teenage children, including the responsible use of alcohol to reduce the chance of excessive binge drinking and accidents.
“Drinking alcohol is a big part of Australian culture so telling them not to drink alcohol is short-sighted and unrealistic,” says the Associate Dean (Research) from Flinders School of Nursing and Midwifery, pointing to Flinders research that shows the majority of teenagers will ignore safe alcohol public health messages.
“But parents should also be confident to talk to their children about the risks associated with consuming alcohol and drugs, and let their children know they are willing to ‘be there’ and listen when they need advice or have concerns.”
In return, young people usually appreciate guidance from their role models – parents, teachers, sport coaches and other responsible adults – and can then make some healthy choices based on sound advice.
“Parents who have a good relationship with their children can actually have more concerns about the risks associated with other people drinking or taking drugs, and how that might affect their child,” says Associate Professor Hutton.
“These include aggressive behaviours such as king-hits, drink spiking, falling from heights such as balconies, or drowning.
“So giving your children responsible guidelines will help them to prepare for all contingencies.
“Even when they’re out there having fun, they need to remember their own safety and that of their friends.”
Thousands of students around the country will celebrate the completion of high school in coming weeks, including the main South Australian Schoolies Festival at Victor Harbor on 20-22 November, Queensland Schoolies Week on 21-28 November, followed by the WA and Victorian events.
More coordinated and well-managed public and community support systems are creating safer environments for the annual end-of-exams celebrations, including free public transport, beach patrols, and supervision of caravan parks, and party areas.
Precautions should also be taken by Schoolies staying in private accommodation, says Associate Professor Hutton, who is part of the Torrens Resilience Institute at Flinders University and is the current president of the Association for the Welfare of Children in Health Care.
Her tips for safety at Schoolies include:
Remember that alcohol is a big part of Australian culture and that most Australian children are brought up in an environment where they see their parents celebrate birthdays, christenings and other special occasions with alcohol. Be prepared for your child to be exposed to and consume alcohol. Have a think about starting a conversation about alcohol well before Schoolies starts.
- Be available for your kids. If you know they are going to Schoolies, don’t go away for the weekend.
- Ask your children if they have any concerns that they want to talk through with you before they go to Schoolies. You don’t need to know all of the answers!
- Let your children know that you are always willing to be there and listen when they need information or help.
- Talk to your kids about what is in the media – if one in ten drinkers are binge drinkers then 9 out of ten aren’t: Let your child know that if they drink responsibly they are in the majority.
- Be confident and tell your kids where you stand on drugs and alcohol. Tell them why you think that drugs are not okay.
- Understand that peer pressure makes it difficult for your children to say no to alcohol and drugs so help your kids plan what they might say. Your kids may need some help to come up with ‘outs,’ such as:
- “I had a big weekend last weekend and I just want to go easy tonight.”
- “Maybe later – I have already had a few and I need a break.”
- “I have a big game (sports) tomorrow / next week and I want to be ready for that.”
Parents of Friends
- Ask your child who they are going to Schoolies with and invite their parents over or ring the parents so you can talk through how to support each other and who to call.
Things that the Schoolie needs to know
Schoolies is a time for you to celebrate the last year of school and only comes around once so have a good time, look after your friends and stay safe.
- Consider how you are going to get down to Schoolies. Use the Schoolies bus service and download the public transport or free transport app for bookings and timetable.
- Take water to drink with you and some snack bars that are easy to grab when you need something to eat. Drinking on an empty stomach is not a good look.
Look after yourself
- Plan ahead – think about what you will need to make your stay comfortable. If you have asthma; take a puffer, diabetes; your insulin pen or allergies; your medication. Let your friends know who to call or what to do if you do get into difficulties.
- Schoolies weather could be hot or cold, so pack clothing and footwear to suit the forecast.
Stay in touch with your mates
- Identify two support people who can support you while you are at Schoolies. Talk to each other about what you are expecting to do at Schoolies and give each other your mobile phone numbers before you leave.
- Think about how you might contact each other if your mobile does run out. Do you want to have a meeting point or do you need to take change to use the public phones?
- Walk through the Schoolies venue or caravan park before you start celebrating and work out some strategies to stay safe as a group.
- Stay in contact with your parents – if you don’t want your friends to know have a code or a special ring tone that only you know.
- Be aware if your friends go off with people that you don’t know – maybe give them a call later and check if they are okay.
- Think about what you know about first aid. Remember to roll someone over on their side if they have collapsed, check their airway and call for help. Don’t leave them alone.