Newly published research into the Schoolies experience paints a dismal picture for parents, teachers and others who try to prepare young people for celebrating the end of schooling in company with their peers.
The annual school-leaver festival is fast approaching, and Schoolies is an exciting time for young people who travel to a holiday resort or other location with friends. Many are unsupervised by parents or adults for the first time in their lives.
For parents, schoolies is a testing time as they want their children, on the verge of adulthood, to develop independent living and social skills. They also know the mass celebrations offer easy access to alcohol and bouts of heavy drinking carries a high risk of harm.
According to the latest research based on ‘Schoolies’ events in South Australia, parents and health agencies have an uphill battle in getting young people to take the risks seriously.
University students who recalled their ‘Schoolie’ experience reported not being interested in health advice and none of them had sought health advice prior to the event. Instead they had concentrated their planning on transport, accommodation, and alcohol. One participant reported her group spent five hours deciding on what to drink. They agreed to drink the ‘nice’ drinks first, until intoxication kicked in, and switch to ‘goon’ or cheap wine when taste no longer mattered.
Respondents expected to be drunk on most nights and had little worry about the consequences because they expected their friends, or else the local youth volunteers (the “Green Team”), would look after them. The negative consequences they recognised were limited to going off alone or meeting people who were not schoolies (i.e. ‘toolies’) or drinking by themselves. This is surprising as young people usually list unsafe sex and violence among other issues as potential harms of binge drinking.
‘Schoolies’ are a self-selecting group and they may not be typical of all school leavers, but they are among the youth cohort at most risk of alcohol related harm. Research has shown that the pattern of drinking laid down at the end of schooling continues into adulthood for many years. So the effect of young people’s determination to binge drink night after night may reverberate long after they return.
The ‘Schoolies’ rejection of ‘health messages’ poses crucial questions. What is behind young people’s deafness on the dangers of binge drinking? Why do ‘Schoolies’ need to drink until they’re blind? Where does their notion that getting drunk is essential to having fun come from? How can we communicate with them effectively? Is this a problem of language, or of content, or the avenues of communication? Should we be doing more to provide better options than binge drinking as a rite of passage?
As a whole community perhaps we are too complacent about youthful drinking. Research indicates that young people drink less alcohol and risk less harm when they know their parents do not support them, or encourage them, to drink.
This latest research indicates that is the least we should be doing before young people leave for school leaver celebrations this year.