Schoolies celebrations get a lot of bad press – and it’s normal for you to feel concerned about your teenage child’s safety at schoolies week. But with plenty of communication and planning, you and your child can find a balance between fun and safety.
Schoolies week: what you need to know
Schoolies week is a celebration to mark the end of Year 12 studies and exams – in other words, the end of secondary school for Australian students.
The schoolies tradition involves school-leavers going on a holiday with their school friends for a week or so. There are a few popular and well-known places for schoolies celebrations, including the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Some school-leavers are keen to go to a schoolies celebration. Others aren’t interested or are more focused on part-time work or saving money for travel, education, living expenses and so on.
You might hear a lot of bad news about schoolies week in the media. But most young people come back from schoolies healthy and happy, satisfied that they’ve said goodbye to their school years and ready to start a new phase.
If you have mixed feelings about your teenage child going away without adult supervision, that’s normal and understandable. It’s OK to be concerned about your child’s safety and wellbeing. But it is possible to find a balance between giving your child independence and keeping him safe.
Why your child might want to go to schoolies
The end of secondary schooling is a big deal. It’s the end of one journey and the beginning of another – no surprises that your teenage child wants to mark the occasion!
If your child has put a big effort into her Year 12 studies, she might be looking forward to relaxing.
Your child might also soon be moving away from home for work, study or travel, so schoolies can be special time with school friends he might not see so much of in the future.
And your child might feel like the world is about to open up for her. Schoolies might be the first time your child has been on holidays by herself, so it’s an exciting new experience of freedom, independence and adventure.
Planning for schoolies week: talking, compromising, negotiating
The best preparation for schoolies week starts early and involves lots of open communication between you and your child. It’s likely your child will start talking about schoolies in Year 11, so it pays to have early conversations before your child starts detailed planning with friends.
The first thing is to find out about your child’s expectations for the end of Year 12. Is your child interested in going to schoolies? Does he want to go a big festival like the one on the Gold Coast, or is he more interested in joining up with a smaller group of friends somewhere else?
It’s OK for you to say what you think about schoolies. You might not want your child to go away at all. Or you might be OK with your child going somewhere, but not to a big festival. As you share expectations, you might find that your number-one priority is keeping your child safe, but your child’s priority is having fun.
Understanding each other’s perspectives is a step towards a compromise that works for both of you.
There are also practical things to consider, like who’s going to pay for schoolies activities.
Working out a compromise
If your child’s priorities and expectations of schoolies are different from yours, you might need to work out a compromise.
You could do this by looking at the pros and cons of different options – for example, comparing the big event on the Gold Coast in Queensland with a smaller, more private celebration somewhere else. You could also look at different events to see which ones have organised programs, volunteer support teams, safety services and so on.
Our guide to problem-solving with teenagers can help you work through pros and cons to come up with an agreement you can both live with.
Although your child is getting older and doing many things independently, she still needs you to set boundaries. In fact, young people often depend on the promises they make to parents to explain to friends why they can’t do certain things.
And if you and your teenage child negotiate boundaries together, he’s more likely to stick to them. For example, as part of setting boundaries for safe behaviour at schoolies, you can ask what he thinks the risks of schoolies might be. Then you and your child can think about behaviour that might help him avoid them.
Negotiating gives you and your child the chance to work through different scenarios and come up with ways for her to stay safe. And it sends a message to your child that you trust her ability to make good decisions.
Budgeting for schoolies
As part of his planning, your child needs to put together a budget to ensure that he has enough money to spend while he’s at schoolies.
You can help your child to plan a budget that includes:
- cost of getting to schoolies
- accommodation costs
- daily living costs, including food, transport and costs of partying
- shopping allowance
- emergency money.
If your child is going to an international destination like Bali, she might also need to plan for the costs of a passport, visa or travel vaccinations, as well as more expensive airfares.
Alcohol and drugs at schoolies: practical tips
If your child isn’t yet 18, it’s important to make sure your child understands the laws on underage drinking before he heads off to schoolies:
- It’s illegal for young people under the age of 18 to drink in licensed premises, anywhere in Australia.
In most states, it’s illegal to supply alcohol to anyone under the age of 18. In some states parents or legal guardians are the only ones who can supply alcohol. Other parents can be charged and convicted for giving alcohol to young people.
If your child is over 18 and chooses to drink at schoolies, these tips can help her stay safe around alcohol:
- Limit the amount you drink and how often you drink.
- Eat carbohydrate-rich food, like pasta, before you drink any alcohol.
- Drink lots of non-alcoholic fluids so that you don’t get dehydrated, alternate alcohol with water, and avoid drinks with high-alcohol content, including energy drinks with alcohol.
- Keep an eye on your drinks and don’t let them out of your sight – this can prevent drink-spiking.
- Avoid swimming, heights, arguments, fights or dangerous risks if you’ve been drinking or using any substances.
You can also talk about the risks of binge-drinking and what your child will do if he’s offered illegal drugs.
Personal safety for your child at schoolies
These tips can help your child avoid dangerous situations and stay safe at schoolies:
- Register as a school-leaver with a schoolies organisation or local council.
- Never go out alone without friends. Always stay with your friends when you’re out and look out for each other.
- Try to stick to a curfew each night.
- Avoid people who are involved in illegal activities or excessive drinking and older people who aren’t part of schoolies activities.
- Don’t get into a car or a boat with anyone who has been drinking or taking drugs.
- Have a phone with you at all times.
- Call police if you see threatening or violent behaviour.
Contact details for your child at schoolies
You need to know where your child is and be able to contact your child:
- Have the address and phone number of where your child is staying.
- Have the names and mobile phone numbers of the friends travelling with your child.
- Confirm the group’s plans with the parents of your child’s friends.
You might want to set up some expectations for how your child will keep in touch with you. For example, will she keep in touch regularly or only if there’s an emergency?
If your child has a health condition, you might want to set up a ‘check in’ system with your child. For example, your child might agree to text you every morning to confirm that he’s OK.
In an emergency
If there’s an emergency, your child needs to know that she can call you at any time of the day or night and that you’ll help her or get help for her friends.
It’s a good idea to make sure your child has extra money just for emergencies and a plan of where to get local help too. Before your child goes, you could check the location of the police station and medical centre nearest to where he’s staying, and make sure your child stores these details on his phone.
It’s also a good idea to make sure your child knows how to handle risky situations. You can do this by talking through some ‘what if’ situations. For example:
- What if there’s a fight involving a friend?
- What if you get stranded and can’t contact your friends?
- What if the party you’re at is crashed by older people who aren’t part of schoolies groups?
When your child finishes Year 12, it’s a big milestone for your whole family. So while you’re thinking about schoolies, it’s also important to talk about how you can celebrate as a family. You could plan a special dinner or consider a weekend away together.