How can parents handle ‘Schoolies anxiety’?

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

Parents who have children at Schoolies this week may be experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

Whether those partying Year 12 graduates are at the most popular hubs on the Gold Coast, or at satellite celebrations in regional communities across the country, the level of concern many parents feel is the same.

But despite the perception that Schoolies events are a hotbed of risky behaviour and illicit temptations, one expert says parents can take proactive steps to help reduce their fears.

Leading youth culture specialist Professor Alison Hutton says communication with your children in the lead-up to Schoolies will be essential to ensuring their safety. It may also help them avoid taking actions they might regret, including making a poor impact on the local communities they are partying in.

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Look after your mates

“I think the number one thing [if you’re a Schoolies attendee] is to look after your mates,” Professor Hutton told EducationDaily.

“Keep track of where they are – don’t let them go off alone, and arrange a meeting time if you lose each other and have no signal/phone contact. In regards to parents – I think having open conversations with them around what they are hoping to do and get from going to Schoolies is essential – and not to just do it the week before when kids might be anxious about going but at least a few months prior.”

She suggests parents ask their children if they know what to do if their friends are drunk – including rolling them on their side and seeking external help – could save lives.

“I think also letting them know that if they need anything to just ring – kids need to know that their parents will be there if they need anything – even if it is at 3 am in the morning,” Professor Hutton says.

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To help parents feel calmer about their own teenager’s exodus to Schoolies, she suggests the five best tips for keeping your child safe at Schoolies are:

  • Organise a way to keep in contact with your children while they are away that they are comfortable with
  • Arrange a time for them to call each day – or a ‘code’ text message that only you both understand
  • Drive them to Schoolies [if they’re not already there] if you can – so they get there safely
  • Provide them with snacks and water so they stay hydrated and have access to food while they are there
  • Know who they are going with and ask to meet their parents
  • Professor Hutton says a discussion with your child around alcohol safety, even if it is uncomfortable, would be wise.

“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,” she says. “Remind them to drink water and to have a good meal before drinking alcohol. Pace alcohol drinking, avoid drinking energy drinks and alcohol as mixing depressants (alcohol) with energy drinks can mask the effects of alcohol.”

Support is there – but Schoolies need to ask for help if needed

Because Professor Hutton says Schoolies is well attended by police, parents should feel some comfort from knowing that support workers and on-site medical care workers are handy – and they should reinforce that message to their own Schoolies.

“Encourage them to seek help and support as needed,” she says.

Peer pressure is a concern for all young adults and can often be the turning point for a child who otherwise would handle alcohol responsibly.

“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,” she says.

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Managing peer pressure can save lives

For kids who feel like they may need to come up with an ‘out’ to other harder partying friends, Professor Hutton has a few suggestions to help young people maintain their boundaries in a peer-pressure situation:

  • “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 and I want to be ready for that.”

And in case situations do become challenging – and potentially dangerous – Professor Hutton says it’s also crucial for young people to learn how to manage if their friends are experiencing symptoms.

“Discuss with your child how to look after someone drunk: roll them over, clear their airway, ask for help; don’t leave them alone,” she says.

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Michael R Williams has been writing for regional newspapers for the past 3 years, including delivering the Longreach Leader to its 100th year. He is passionate about the opportunity journalism offers him to interview and tell the stories of Australians with a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. He is an obsessive reader and podcast listener.