Schoolies: a rite of passage it is not

Recently graduated school kids flock to Surfers Paradise to celebrate Schoolies each year. (Pic: Jake Nowakowski)
Recently graduated school kids flock to Surfers Paradise to celebrate Schoolies each year. (Pic: Jake Nowakowski)

DEBAUCHED delinquents are at it again.

From tomorrow, you'll see them cavorting on the Gold Coast, smashed out of their immature brains, yelling abuse, being vulgar and attacking police officers.

There'll be vomit, blood, tears and more than a few unwanted pregnancies.

The other certainty, as the seniors of 2017 check out of school today and more than 20,000 of them beat a path to the beach, is that you'll hear one of two refrains.

Firstly, that the youth of today is going down the gurgler, and dragging the country's future with it.

Secondly, that Schoolies is a rite of passage, a well-earned cutting loose after the shackles of high school.

Both would be wrong.

Let's start with the second.

A rite of passage, by definition, "involves rituals and teachings designed to strip individuals of their original roles and prepare them for new roles".

Drinking until you pass out - and other types of reckless behaviour - is not preparing young people for anything other than being a giant pain in the neck at best. At worst, lives are compromised and even destroyed.

Take the recent social media craze #neknominate, in which people post clips of themselves downing booze, including whole bottles of spirits, then tag others to do likewise.

The craze - believed to have originated in Australia (surprise, surprise) - has claimed at least a dozen young lives around the world... that we know of.

Ritual worthy? I don't think so, and neither will prospective employers when they check social media before hiring, yet drinking games are part and parcel of Schoolies and many celebrations thereafter involving so-called adults.

They're part of our "culture". Apparently.

While police - and volunteers, including Red Frogs - are doing a better job of regulating Schoolies and supervising outdoor events, they can't be in every hotel room overseeing every kid.

Parents hold their breaths and count the days until their children come home, in various states of dishevelment.

Schoolies does a lousy job of preparing young people for impending adulthood, so let's not confuse it as a rite of passage.

What does constitute a meaningful transition from the bubble of school to the big, wide world is teaching kids the value of self-respect, respect for others, and contributing positively to society.

While such values begin in the home, they can be very effectively taught in the classroom too.

When I look at some of the terrific projects children are developing in their schools, I'm reassured that the future is being thoughtfully shaped.

So to the first refrain - the youth of today is going down the gurgler - this also must be challenged.

Young people are in fact more socially aware than previous generations, according to McCrindle research released in March.

Two 2016 Schoolies attendees take a break. (Pic: Jake Nowakowski)
Two 2016 Schoolies attendees take a break. (Pic: Jake Nowakowski)

Despite financial concerns around home ownership and being unable to live the Australian dream, 18 to 21-year-olds are chasing another dream: to make a difference in the world.

Climate change, gender equality and countering racism are high on their agenda, and one in five already regrets not making more of an impact.

"Young people care deeply about their environment and want to work on projects that improve the world," Mark McCrindle says.

In progressive schools, including those in The Courier-Mail's Innovative Schools Report, the foundations for being a positive force are already being laid.

The skills McCrindle and others identify as crucial to succeeding in the current and future workforce and to living well in general - such as being collaborative, innovative and responsive to the environment - are all being taught to children as young as seven years old.

Year 3 students at St Paul's School, Bald Hills, are helping design airports of the future with Brisbane Airport Corporation.

Twelve-year-olds at Sheldon College, in the Redlands, are building solar panel lights and fundraising to promote sustainable living in Indian slums.

And at Kelvin Grove State College in inner-Brisbane, budding entrepreneurs with big ideas are being mentored by digital start-up hub Fishburners.

Today's young people - when engaged by educators and emotionally supported by their families - are not unabated hedonists looking to cause chaos.

Similarly, not all kids who attend Schoolies are ratbags or rebels without a cause. Many are well-behaved, responsible and simply enjoying time with friends in a parent-free zone.

So before we label young people as this or that and bemoan the future they will create, let's consider how we help them determine what is a bona fide rite of passage and how we guide them into positive adulthood.

Kylie Lang is an associate editor of the Courier-Mail.

Topics:  alcohol drugs opinion qps schoolies

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