For many parents whose teenage children are completing Year 12, this time of year means mixed emotions. Parents might feel proud, exhausted and excited. And as young people start heading to schoolies and leavers’ celebrations, many parents may also feel nervous — maybe a little freaked out.
Part of the appeal of schoolies celebrations, which start this weekend in some areas, is they give teenagers a chance to exert their independence and experiment with their identity as a young adult.
This is a normal part of growing up. But for some parents, this can create anxiety. And this anxiety can manifest in overly protective behaviours known as helicopter parenting.
How to avoid a crash landing
This anxiety also affects their young adult children, who in turn are more likely to be anxious.
These young people find it hard to make decisions and have poor time management. They might also avoid telling their parents things that might freak them out.
Good communication is the key to reducing parental angst and potential hovering. More importantly, it provides an opportunity to talk about high-risk situations. It also means a young person will feel they can contact their parents if they get into trouble.
So how can parents avoid freaking out and keep the channels of communication open? Think of going to schoolies as taking a flight.
Pre-flight safety briefing (tips for good communication)
1. When entering the aircraft, mind the generation gap
Young people are often scapegoated by the previous generation (think Gen Z and avocado toast). So don’t react to the media hype about the dangers of schoolies.
Last year there were concerns about an epidemic of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) at schoolies. However, these claims were unfounded.
Parents might roll their eyes at teenage behaviour in videos previous schoolies produce, such as the one below. However, from a school leaver’s perspective, these behaviours are a rite of passage.
Most of these behaviours — such as developing group norms, hazing rituals, pranks and testing limits — are about young people developing their identity. And ultimately, most of these behaviours are relatively harmless.
Parents need to be well informed as to what schoolies is all about. Queensland Independent Schools has developed some good resources. If young people believe their parents know what they’re talking about, they’re more likely to listen.
2. Your life-jacket is under the seat
Parental discussions about reducing the risk from alcohol use and safe sex are not only likely to have the most impact on reducing harm, teens will also see them as more relevant.
3. Know your exits
Young people are sceptical of information about risky behaviours they think is exaggerated. Information about risky behaviours is likely to be perceived as more credible when it is balanced.
For example, when talking about drugs, teenagers will perceive information parents provide as more credible when positive, neutral and negative effects of the drug are all considered. A good source of balanced and credible drug information is Erowid, a drug education website run by a not-for-profit harm reduction organisation.
4. Brace position
Most young people take risks. Testing the boundaries is a normal part of growing up. What did you get up to as a young person?
Appropriate disclosure of the parent’s own risk taking behaviour creates an environment of trust. It also fosters the disclosure reciprocity norm. When somebody discloses something personal about themselves, we feel the desire to disclose something personal about ourself.
It is also important not to appear to know something when you don’t. This would be inauthentic. You gain more credibility by acknowledging when you don’t know something and are open to working together to finding out.
5. Fasten your seat belts
If you are authentic and are open to a balanced discussion, young people are more likely to disclose past behaviour or future intentions that might concern you.
Remember to stay calm. Discuss the potential consequences, both good and bad, in a matter-of-fact manner. Reacting negatively is likely to shut down the conversation.
6. Oxygen masks may drop
Some parents might be concerned about “peer pressure”. While your child can be trusted, can you trust their friends?
The likelihood of a young person succumbing to peer pressure is reduced when there is a good relationship with their parents. This is a chance to discuss creative “ways out” of risky situations.
The popular belief that young people value their friends’ beliefs more than their parents’ is not true. While young people are more likely to be influenced by peers on matters such as style and appearance, parents are still more likely to have an influence on issues such as morality.
Cleared for take-off
Experimenting and exerting independence provides young people with excellent opportunities for learning and self development.
Though some learning experiences can be costly, through good communication, the risk of harm can be minimised.
In the end, parents need to trust they have instilled their values and common sense.