Pre’s & After’s – What’s hot and what’s not

drunk teenage girlThe school formal has become 3 different events in the one night. One or more of them can potentially ruin the other ones. You need to take reasonable steps to safeguard the teens, the formal and the school from events unrelated to the formal itself.

Pre-Formal Drinks:

It has become customary for members of a year group to gather at someone’s home prior to the formal to share a photo opportunity. Unfortunately muscling into that scenario is alcohol, which presents certain problems both legally and practically.

Parents of upper teenage year children will sometimes think of alcohol as something that should be taught to their kids in their own way. That’s fair, and the NSW Liquor Act agrees however, the parameters within which under-aged teens can drink alcohol are very narrow and specific.

In short and layman’s terms, the only way a minor can be served alcohol is in the privacy of a home, by their own parent or legal guardian, and they then cannot leave that place for the rest of the day unless it’s to travel to their own home (unless they’re already home).

What cannot happen, under the law, is for a minor to travel to someone else’s home, without their parent or guardian present, and be served alcohol by someone else. That’s completely illegal. To make matters worse, for that minor, having consumed alcohol, to then attend licensed premises is the absolute height of illegal activity under the act.

Some parents will argue that it’s a teenager’s “Right of Passage” to drink (and / or get drunk) on the night of their formal. Let’s dispel that rubbish right here and right now. There’s no such thing as a “Right of Passage”. The term is “Rite” of passage, and in the correct context, the word “rite” means tradition or custom. It does not mean a “right” or entitlement under the law.

The bottom line with regard to the Pre-Formal drinks phenomenon is this. If there’s alcohol being served to minors with the intention of then attending a formal on licensed premises, then the whole pre’s event is illegal and should be discouraged altogether. It’s not going to stop happening.

That’s a fact. However giving your students and parents the correct information and educating them about the proper interpretation of the actual laws will have some positive affect.

2014 saw the NSW Liquor Act amended to make the regulations in this specific area less ambiguous and easier for parents to interpret correctly. There is educational material available so make it a point to get your hands on this for distribution.

At the very least, suggesting to them that it be a nice event but alcohol-free would be a reasonable way to start. Just remember, if any minor turns up at the door to any licensed premises in NSW, who is even reasonably suspected of having consumed any volume of alcohol at any time during that day, they are to be refused entry without exception. Black and white as that may be, it’s been the law here for around the last 40 years and it’s not likely to change.

After Parties:

This phenomenon, like the pre’s, has found its way into the formal culture but not is all as it seems here either and there are a few facts that need clarification and attention so that everyone knows how things can affect them.

The tradition here is to finish the formal looking nice in the nice venue with everything – well, nice. Then shoot off to some other venue, usually a nightclub, with a bar, after midnight, to get completely smashed rotten drunk and dance the rest of the night away into the wee hours. To a teenager, this sounds like the ultimate “letting your hair down”
experience to mark the end of a school year.

To an ignorant parent – this might also come under the heading of “Right of Passage”, let’s not revisit that. There are some things to keep in mind here too. In NSW, it is illegal for any minor to be on any licensed premises whatsoever after midnight. That’s why formals have to end at 12 under the law. It’s understood by licensees that this is the case however; let’s look at who these kinds of licensees are, and what their motivations are for operating inside or outside the law.

I testified as an expert witness in October 2012 in an inquiry before the NSW Legislative Assembly (Social Policy Committee) concerning desired upgrades to the Liquor Act. Part of my testimony was information that outlined how the current penalties under the act are so outdated and so small in relation to the profits available by breaching them, that the committee members were astonished to learn the truth about them. If a nightclub licensee were to conduct school formal after parties in any given week of formal season, the amount of profit from bar takings alone would be worth up to 10 times what the fine would be if they were caught and convicted of the offence.

Are we all so naïve as to think that all the minors are banned from attending these after parties?

There’s an easy way to check. If any of these venues is providing wrist bands, they’re conducting illegal events. The fact that they not only invite minors into the premises after midnight, but they actually have a physical, visual system for identifying who is a minor and who is not, means that there is no plausible deniability at all.

The penalty system under the Liquor Act is a joke and the “Responsible Service of Alcohol” initiative currently in operation in NSW has one great big “elephant in the room” flaw, the fact that it’s self-regulating. The foxes are guarding the chook-pen, pure and simple.

That only covers one of the two main alarm bells that ring when thinking about after parties. It speaks to the safety of the kids. The other one is how if can affect the school. Of course the first reaction you’d probably feel is that after parties can’t affect the school because they have nothing whatsoever to do with the school.

If that’s your thinking, then you’d better sit down. Like a formal, which may not be endorsed or approved by the school, the after party comes with the same strings attached. If the one thing that a reasonable percentage of the attendees have in common with each other while attending an after party is the fact that they attend (or attended) the same school, boom! The school (or the D.E.T. if a state school) automatically attracts a potential liability exposure if anything goes wrong.

Drink spiking, drunkenness, alcohol poisoning, unprotected and even unwilling sexual activity are all accepted and unbridled products of the after party environment. After parties are dangerous, uncontrolled, poorly secured delivery systems for alcohol into the mouths of teenagers, full stop. Any reasonable steps that you can take to  discourage them would be highly advised.