Leavers, Schoolies…Call it what you like. The thought of it is enough to make most parents feel queasy. No matter how responsible your child is, this is where it could all go horribly wrong.
Think about it…
Euphoria at finishing school
Away from home
What could possibly go wrong? Your mind takes flight and spins and starts doing aerial stunts. Everything. EVERYTHING could go wrong…
But it probably won’t.
Remember that. It is unlikely that anything will go wrong.
That said, there are steps you can take to make sure the week is more about fun and less about risk.
1. Make sure they want to go
Not all students want to go on Leavers’ Week. It’s not their thing. It’s noisy and chaotic and there is a lot of partying. They are sharing accommodation with their friends. Full time. For a week. It’s an introvert’s nightmare!
There is also a move away from Leavers’ culture. Our graduates are older and not necessarily as attracted to the idea of alcohol-fuelled holidays as they were in the past. So, make sure your child wants to go and isn’t just feeling they have to, because…that’s what you do when you leave school.
2. Guide them to choose a sensible destination
There are holiday areas set aside by the police for Leavers that are well managed and safe. In Western Australia those areas are in Dunsborough and Rottnest. Organisations like Red Frogs also operate at those venues. Red Frogs is an organisation of young people committed to keeping other young people safe in alcohol-fuelled environments.
I’m sorry, but allowing your child to go to Bali for Leavers is stupid. You don’t put an excited group of teenagers into a foreign country where they are a long, long way from help if they need it. Indonesia has strict laws about behaviour and drug use and the consequences are extreme. And that is their right. Aged 17 or 18, during the heady excitement of graduation is not the time to negotiate foreign laws and expectations.
3. Communicate beforehand
Your child knows your expectations and values, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate them. Yes, they are likely to roll their eyes. Research from Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute, confirms that you should state your views anyway.
Lead researcher, Dr Tina Lam says, “This study found parental disapproval of risky drinking was the most reliable protective factor against heavier alcohol consumption, and that it was effective even in environments where young people said it felt like everyone around them was drinking, such as school leaver events”.
Aside from discussing alcohol and drug use, talk about possible scenarios E.g. What happens when you lose your people? When you feel unsafe? How do you say ‘no’ without looking like a reject? What if someone passes out or overdoses? What if there’s a fight? Don’t just ask the questions, make sure there are realistic answers.
4. Communicate throughout
You don’t need to have full blown conversations every day, but your kids do need to check in with you. One of my friends had her son text her a ‘thumbs up’ emoji each day. It doesn’t take much. You might want to get them to call you at some predetermined times throughout the week. That way you won’t be waiting for their call.
Make sure they have plenty of food and water. This isn’t going to be something kids will prioritise. The food should be easy to prepare. Bottled water will mean they can walk around with it and stay hydrated.
Sun protection is important. Kids have been inside studying for months and we’re coming out of winter. They are going to get a very big dose of sun and dehydration. They don’t want to be sick or in pain and not able to get out and have fun. This is Australia people. Prepare!
There should be a crystal clear plan of how kids are getting to Leavers and how they are getting home.
Accommodation must be organised beforehand and you should have the address of the accommodation. Most kids rent private accommodation. Explain to them the responsibilities they have to the landlord. Ensure they use their own money for the bond. It’s amazing how much more concerned they will be about things being broken and the final clean up if it is their own money on the line.
You’d be surprised at how many kids come home early from Leavers because they get bored. Chat with them about what they plan on doing all week.
The excitement of Leavers is because it is a rite of passage ritual. They see it as a part of becoming an adult. However, part of being an adult is actually…adulting! That means taking responsibility for yourself and others. Allocating one person to not drink each day is an important mechanism for keeping kids safe
Another safety check is that kids not go partying alone. They should be with friends and keep an eye out for each other.
8. No vehicles….ABSOLUTELY no vehicles!
Yes, lots of kids have their licences by the time Leavers comes around. That doesn’t mean they should drive themselves to, from or throughout the celebrations. This is a no brainer and doesn’t need further discussion. Drive them down yourself or ensure they are carpooling with an adult.
9. Important contacts
Make sure your child has an ICE contact in their phone. You may not have heard of this before. If something happens, which it probably won’t, emergency services will check your child’s mobile phone contact list for ICE (in case of emergency). Maybe put an ICE contact in your phone too. It’s a good idea for everyone.
Sometimes young people don’t ring the police or an ambulance when something goes wrong because they are scared they will be in trouble. Tell your kids, ” The police and ambos don’t care what you’ve done. They just want answers to questions. If your friend is unconscious and has ingested drugs, tell the professionals…and be specific. You won’t be in trouble and you could save a life.
Your child should have a list of important numbers written down. We’ve all been in that situation where you lose your phone and can’t remember phone numbers. (Remember the old days when we just knew everybody’s number. We were amazing!)
10. Tell them to have a good time
The whole point of Leavers is to celebrate a big change in their lives. It’s important to them. Make sure you show that you recognise that fact. It is easy to go into a spiral of worry, but don’t. This is a time of celebration for you too. Enjoy it.
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Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single sex and co-ed. Currently she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia.