Schoolies is a rite of passage for many young Australians – an enthusiastic burst of fun and freedom to celebrate the end of secondary school.
With Year 12 studies and exams finally behind them, school-leavers can finally say goodbye to their high school years and start thinking about the next phase of their lives.
As a parent, it’s normal to have mixed feelings about sending your teenager off to Schoolies, but most young people come back from the experience healthy, happy and ready to move on to an exciting future.
Some are less keen to attend these celebrations than others, preferring to concentrate on part-time jobs, saving money or organising a gap year.
The tradition of Schoolies involves going away with your friends for a week or so without adult supervision. Although that can sound a bit scary, police and community organisations put many measures in place to help keep school-leavers as safe as possible.
In 2017, Schoolies Week starts on 18 November for Queensland school-leavers and later in the month for New South Wales and Victoria students.
In 2017, Schoolies Week starts on 18 November for Queensland school-leavers and later in the month for New South Wales and Victoria students.[i]
Schoolies ‘hotspots’ include Airlie Beach and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts in Queensland, Byron Bay in New South Wales and Lorne in Victoria.
Budgeting for Schoolies
You and your child can put a budget together that includes all anticipated expenses. Costs to be factored in include:
- Accommodation costs (this is usually a big one)
- Transportation costs for getting to the desired Schoolies venue
- A shopping allowance
- Daily living costs
- An emergency fund
Daily living costs include food, local transport, partying costs and incidentals. For school-leavers heading overseas, there will be additional spending to think about for visas, airfares, passports, vaccinations, etc.
Boundaries, expectations and compromise
For many school-leavers, this may be the first time they’ve ever had a holiday by themselves, so there’s a real sense of excitement about the freedom and independence of hanging out with friends away from the watchful eyes of parents.
There’s nothing wrong with expressing normal parental concerns; you might not want your child to go at all, or you might be totally okay with the whole idea.
Some children start thinking about Schoolies as early as Year 11, so it can pay to open up a dialogue about any safety worries and your expectations early, well before any plans have finalised with their friends.
Not all young people want to go to a big event like the Gold Coast has every year. Others might prefer a smaller celebration on a quieter scale with just a handful of mates.
If your child’s Schoolies celebrations are going to involve more organised activities, it’s easy to research these beforehand online so you know what’s going to be happening.
Find out what your child thinks the main risks will be at Schoolies – you may find they differ completely from your own assessments.
Find out what your child thinks the main risks will be at Schoolies – you may find they differ completely from your own assessments. Negotiating with your child can involve working through different potential scenarios so your children can think about
(a) how to avoid dangerous or risky situations and
(b) how to handle the typical kinds of problems that arise when partying.
It’s also a great time to discuss looking after their friends’ wellbeing in addition to their own.
Play the ‘what if’ game with your child. “What will you do if a fight breaks out involving one of your friends?” “What happens if you’re supposed to be somewhere all together and someone goes missing?” “How will you handle sexual pressures?”
“What will you do if the party you’re at is crashed by non-school-leavers?” “What’s your plan if you’re stranded somewhere and can’t make contact with your friends?”
It’s also vital to let your school-leaver know that if they need your help at any time and for any reason, you’ve got their back and are happy for them to contact you – even if it’s just to let you know how things are going.
Texts are a less obtrusive way to keep tabs on your child than constant phone calls, which might embarrass them in front of their friends. WhatsApp works quite well for quick chats and updates.
Alcohol and drugs
Children under the age of 18 should fully understand the laws pertaining to underage drinking in their state and in Australia as a whole.
If your child is over 18 and has decided they’ll be drinking at Schoolies, here are a few basic precautions you can share with them that could help them stay safe whilst they’re in party mode:
- Eat carbohydrate-rich foods (like pasta and rice) before drinking alcohol – don’t drink on an empty stomach
- Keep track of and limit the amount you’re drinking and the frequency of drinks – and keep in mind that the effects of alcohol can last long after you’ve woken up the next day
- Avoid beverages with a high alcohol content, including energy drinks that contain alcohol
- Alcohol consumption causes dehydration; alternate drinking water with alcohol to ensure you stay sufficiently hydrated
- Be vigilant and don’t let your drink out of your sight – otherwise you could become a victim of drink-spiking; if you drink a beer, take the cap off yourself
- While drinking, you should avoid swimming, heights, fights, arguments or dangerous risks
- Never assume that any pill you’re given is what the provider says it is; drug dealers don’t tend to be the most trustworthy folks on the planet
- If any of your friends looks like they’re having a bad reaction to alcohol or drugs, don’t delay in getting them medical help (better safe than sorry)
Personal Safety at Schoolies
School-leavers will have to use their own judgement to keep clear of dangerous situations, risky behaviour and escalating problems.
Alcohol and whatever other substances are floating around can seriously impair normal judgement, so in an ideal world it’s not a bad idea to have at least one person in the group who is drinking less than the rest and can keep an eye on things to ensure everyone is okay.
Here are some useful Schoolies safety tips to keep young people safe:
- Register as a school-leaver with either a schoolies organisation or local council
- Make every effort to stick to a pre-agreed curfew time each night
- Don’t go out alone without being accompanied by friends – your friends are your protectors and you are theirs; looking out for your mates is one of the most important ‘jobs’ for a Schoolies participant
- Avoid older people (‘toolies’) who aren’t a part of normal Schoolies activities as well as anyone involved in excessive drinking, drug-taking, illegal activities or dangerous behaviour
- Wherever you are, keep your phone with you and make sure it’s charged
- If you see violent or threatening behaviour, contact the police immediately
- Don’t get into a car or boat with anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Some parents like to have a ‘check-in system’ in which the child agrees to ring them at a particular time (usually early afternoon) each day to let them know they’ve safely negotiated the previous night’s festivities.
If there’s an emergency
It can help to know where your child is staying and have at least one method of contacting them at any given time in case of emergency as well as the names and mobile phone numbers of all the friends travelling with your school-leaver.
Having conversations with the parents of your child’s friends can help you know you’re all on the same page as far as expectations, planned activities and boundaries.
It can help to give your child the numbers of other trusted people they can call in the event of trouble (they might not always be able to reach you) and a cash reserve ‘for emergencies only’.[ii]
- In 2017, Schoolies starts on 18 November for Queensland school-leavers, with NSW and Victoria students following shortly after
- Schoolies costs money so it helps to work out a viable budget with your child
- Discussing expectations and boundaries with your child can help you reach common ground
- If your child is planning to drink alcohol, see our guidance on how to stay safe and healthy in the process
- Do they have a ‘what if there’s an emergency’ plan in place so your child can get quick help if needed?