Schoolies: rite of Passage or parent's worst nightmare?

Don't bury your head in the sand ... time to talk Schoolies.
Don't bury your head in the sand ... time to talk Schoolies. Photo: Getty

It's finally happening. Your son or daughter is about to finish Year 12 and all they want to do is go away with their friends to the Gold Coast, Byron, Bali or some other location as far removed from you as possible ... and have as much fun as they can … and do you even know what that really means?

I mean is this a potential nightmare or what? It seems like only last week they were still in primary school and you, their parent, was pretty much in charge of everything they did and you knew most of what was going on and who they were hanging out with.

How quickly things change. Now they are going to be totally on their own, making their own decisions and there is the real possibility of way too much alcohol, drugs, unprotected sex with strangers, king hits, high-rise hijinks and a bunch of other outrageously scary scenarios.

So given that this is actually going to happen, surely you really need to accept it and work out how you are going to manage the Schoolies experience in the best way possible.

It seems to me you have three obvious options.

1.  Go into denial and just hope that everything turns out okay;

2.  Lay down the law and tell them everything they should and shouldn't do;

3.  Use it as an opportunity to support them as they celebrate finishing school and at the same time enter into a new stage of your relationship together.

Option 1 is in my opinion basically irresponsible as there are some serious risks associated with schoolies and it is important for parents to communicate with their teenagers about these risks.

Option 2 is a tried and tested way of driving your kids underground and simply not knowing what happens, because being too authoritarian in your parenting style will simply cause your kids to stop telling you anything.

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Option 3 is one that accepts that your teen really is going and allows you to work out how best to manage the experience and turn Schoolies into a learning and relationship building opportunity.

For those interested in Option 3 here are six things that I would recommend:

1.  Find time to talk to your son or daughter about Schoolies. Maybe even go out for a meal or when you are on a decent length car trip. Pick your time well — this is key — not for example when they are racing out the door to meet their friends.

2.  Let them know how you feel about them going away, including the fact that they are now growing up and that you won't be there to tell them what to do or rescue them all the time. How do you really feel about that?

3.  Talk to your son or daughter about when you were their age. What did you do and how did you start to establish your own independence from your parents. Make a point of telling them something that they don't know about you.

4.  Let them know that you really want them to have a great time and that you also don't want them to come to any harm.

5. Ask your son or daughter what they want to happen on Schoolies, what they see as being the potential dangers and how they intend to deal with those dangers.

6. Very importantly, make sure they absolutely know that if they have problems or things go wrong that they can contact you and you will help them in whatever way you can. Or you can give them the contact details of a friend or relative you know in the area whom they can contact (make sure you contact that person and let them know this is happening).

Remember tens of thousands of kids go to Schoolies every year and most of them have a great time with no real problems.

If you can get across to your son or daughter that you trust them, that you want them to have a great time and that you want to support them regarding the possible dangers, then the outcome is much more likely to be positive.

Hopefully you will be able have some great conversations and celebrate when they come home, acknowledging the shift that has happened in your relationship as your teen becomes an independent adult.

Dr Arne Rubinstein is a doctor, counsellor, mentor and workshop facilitator who specialises in adolescent development and Rites of Passage programs. He is the founder of Uplifting Australia and the author of The Making of Men: Raising Boys to be Healthy, Happy and Successful (Xoum Publishing, $24.99). www.drarne.com.au

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