A guide for parents of Schoolies teens: if you love someone, set them free


I wanted my 17-year-old daughter to take a fake ID to Schoolies week.

The annual school leavers’ mega-party on the Gold Coast is a special kind of hell for parents of under 18s – the last thing you want is for them to be wandering the streets alone while their legal-drinking-age friends disappear into pubs.

When she left for her first adult-free trip, I believed having a fake licence would keep her tethered to her big group of 18-year-old school mates when they went out on the town.

So that just leaves falling off balconies, crossing the street drunk, swimming at night, drink spiking and unwanted attention from toolies to worry about.

To say nothing of the torture that is a teenager’s unanswered phone.

If you have been unable to convince your offspring that a charity immersion in Asia would be better soul food than a 24-hour party on the beach, like an estimated 25,000 other parents in NSW, your newly free child is probably in Surfers’ Paradise right now.

And the reality is they are probably far safer there this week than almost anywhere else in the world.

A special joint emergency services HQ is operating three blocks from party central at Cavill Mall – there police, ambulance, fire officers and a CCTV camera crew are on duty 24/7 in one room ready to respond in lightning time to any trouble in public spaces.

You can’t walk a block without seeing police patrolling on foot, or with drug dogs. They’re on the look out for trouble from older tourists known as toolies, drug dealers and drunken brawlers.

While no one can completely eliminate the risk of young adults getting into dangerous situations – and let’s face it, none of us will ever know what they get up to in their apartments – the impressive co-ordinated operation of services means help is close by.

The Queensland police told The Sun-Herald this week the whole Gold Coast community is geared to keeping our teens as safe as possible as the region’s tourism coffers depend on it.

Psychologist Christine Bagley-Jones said parents should try not to catastrophise, or let their own anxieties spoil Schoolies for their children.

“I think its inevitable parents will be stressed out – it’s a daunting concept but it’s about keeping busy and distracting yourself so you don’t spend every hour wondering what your kid is doing,” said Christine, a mother of five.

“In reality they are probably at the beach swimming and shopping and yes, there will be drinking and partying but it probably isn’t as bad as the images we create in our heads.”

Psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack, a mother of four schoolies survivors, agrees, saying parents have no choice but to trust their children.

“I’ve been there, done that, and my advice is to train yourself to replace anxious thoughts with good ones. Chances are they are safe, even if they are not answering their phone,” she said.

“Don’t have expectations of communication with them during this week. If you call them too much, it just teaches them to lie and all it does is pass on your own anxieties to them.

“Trust that you have raised them well. If you have made the decision to let them go, then let them be free and have fun with their friends.”

As for me, my commitment to resist over-calling was the hardest part. Though I knew her group had booked into a secure building with some of the strictest rules on the strip, I found it hard not to fret this time three years ago. Particularly as the fake ID didn’t happen.

They are too smart to post anything hair-raising on Facebook so stalking social media didn’t help quieten my need to know she was safe but being glued to incident-free news bulletins did.

In the end the best tonic is having a laugh with other mums. Some I know took the chance to go away on their own version of schoolies – moolies – as a distraction and a reward for helping get the kids through the high school years.

And when I had my own daughter safely at home again, I felt newly blessed by her presence, delighted with her company. Like the song says if you love someone, set them free.


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