woman wearing red shirt drinking

There is a peripheral set of events that nowadays flank the formal-proper. The “Pres” and “Afters” are what I describe as “hanger-on” events that we can neither ignore nor dismiss. Like the formal, they’re here to stay and we can either embrace and steer them, or we can run the risk of them going wrong and reflecting poorly on the school.

Admittedly as an educator, these additional flanking events are far further removed from connection to the school than formals, and as such attract significantly less control from you, however what goes on at these events may be somewhat influenced by how you approach them, and regardless of whether or not you had anything to do with running them, like the formal, if the media and the community catch wind of any misadventure and append it to the school name, the result is the same. As an educator, information and communication is your strongest weapon here. I urge you to make use of that.

Setting the scene for the “Pre’s”:

The formal is booked and ready to go. The teens have spent most of the day preparing clothes, hair, makeup, etc. They’re not expected at the venue until 7 pm.

This is a very common time for parents to be excited about their kids dressing up and looking like adult versions of themselves for the first time. They will doubtless be a part of this preparation process and will also want opportunities to take photos and live vicariously for a few moments through their kids.

In most instances there will be a gathering organised at someone’s home. A parent will volunteer their home for a “Pre-Drinks” in the late afternoon, the teens will gather there and indulge in a champagne or two, possibly with Mum or Dad present, take a few photos and be picked up in limousines from there for their excited ride to the formal venue.

It’s a really cute part of the process, and popular culture has entrenched this portion of the formal into this generation.

When described in this clinical way, it all seems rather benign and innocent, however there is some serious legal undertow present that can be problematic and needs to be addressed with some effort on detail.

I know this is tedious but you should be aware of this issue, and how it can indirectly and adversely affect you and your school. You do have a role to play in this issue.

Recently (2012) the NSW Legislative Assembly called together a lengthy set of hearings into the Liquor Act with a view to gauging the state of community standards and making recommendations for whatever legislative updates were needed. The chairman of the Social Policy Committee conducting the inquiry was The Hon. Bruce Notley-Smith, State Member for Coogee, and the panel was made up of a dozen or so sitting members. There were several experts called in to give data, evidence, recommendations and other submissions, from a variety of organisations, some government, some charity or community. I was called upon by the Committee to represent the private sector, where I submitted several educational recommendations, 3 of which were subsequently added to the liquor act’s amendments.

There was a heavy emphasis on underage drinking issues and how best to deal with them. Much of the data provided shed light on one glaring deficiency in community perception of teenagers and alcohol. It all pointed to parents, and their misinterpretation of their rights to serve alcohol to minors, under the act. Basically the public were unaware of the real limits of the liquor laws and were breaking them without knowing it.

Under the law, it’s perfectly legal for a parent to introduce alcohol to their own minor child in the safety of their home. This is about where the public’s wish for clarification ends. This section of the act was written and the spirit of it intended for parents to teach the proper administration of alcohol such as the correct wine for a meal or the appropriate volume of beer for a body type. There are very clear restrictions however.

1/ Only the Loco Parentis to the minor may serve that alcohol. You can’t give permission for some else’s child to drink in your home without their own parent present and supervising.

2/ If a minor has consumed alcohol at home, they are NOT permitted out in public after that. They are to stay home.

3/ If a minor has been granted permission for a small volume of alcohol in the home, this does NOT extend beyond the home as a “green light” to drink elsewhere, even if “permission” is granted by the parent. They have no such right of permission.

4/ The very last place that a minor may possibly appear after having consumed ANY volume of alcohol, no matter who served it to them, is at the door of licensed premises, like formal venues.

These are indisputable facts of law. The only thing you can do as an educator is educate. You well know that sometimes getting a change in behaviour or mindset with students is a matter of educating their parents. This is one of those issues where parents should be the targets mainly because they’re the unwitting, and unfortunately sometimes fully aware, worst offenders.

I cannot recount how many times I’ve seen 16 year old girls, dressed provocatively, presenting themselves at the door of a 5-Star Hotel Ballroom, blowing Blood / Alcohol Content readings of 0.18% and beyond, unable to stand unassisted, in possession of six-packs of alco-pops. When set aside and questioned about where they obtained the alcohol, the answer often came back “It’s OK really, Mum said it was fine”. When I’ve called to talk to parents, the response has often been “They’re just Bacardi Breezers. What’s your problem?”. The problem, madam, is that alco-pops are full of hard spirit liquor and your daughter is drunk and has just peed herself.

If we’re going to have an impact on underage drinking, we have to start at the top with those who are misinterpreting the law and administering their own brand of it.

I’ve fielded many written complaints from parents over the years questioning my decisions to put their kids into taxis and send them home, or in extreme cases into ambulances and send them to hospital. The one line I frequently see written, infuriates me beyond measure…

“Being drunk at your formal is normal. I did it at my formal. Why can’t you let them have their right-of-passage?”

Being drunk at your formal is NOT normal. It’s illegal and irresponsible. A parent having done it as a teen is in no way any kind of justification for it. Most of all, the “right-of-passage” line is what gets me angry most of all.

As a teacher, you’d know that it’s not “RIGHT” of passage, it’s “RITE” of passage. You’ve probably taught the importance of spelling, grammar and punctuation on understanding the meaning of the words.

Let’s eat Grandma. Let’s eat, Grandma.

What is this thing called love? What is this thing, called “love”? What is this thing called, love?

What’s that in the road a head? What’s that in the road ahead? What’s that in the road, a head?

A “right” is an undeniable entitlement. A “rite” is a ceremonious act to mark a coming of age. They are not the same thing and parents think they mean that teenagers have an entitlement to be drunk at the formal to mark their adulthood.

Spelling has never been more important.

The reality of the scenario is never going to match the written law exactly. The human factors will always play a part, however the “Pre’s” don’t have to be an exercise in “loading” before going to the formal. Good education and information will help to steer it to what it should be, a sip of champagne with Mum and Dad for a photo.

Setting the scene for the “Afters”:

The formal is drawing to a close. They’ve been on their best behaviour while cameras were trained on them, but now is their chance to cut-loose and expend that teen energy the way they really want to.

There are only two kinds of after party events…

1/ The ones in someone’s private home, or

2/ The ones in licensed premises, usually nightclubs, bars and so forth.

Again, there’s not a lot of control to be applied to either but good information lends itself to better decisions.

In scenario 1, in the home, this is OK for all ages to attend, however if minors intend to drink alcohol, their parents must be present to supervise. (Not a likely scenario). At worst, parents should be on call and ready to leap into action if they get a phone call. Someone hosting the event should know who to call for everyone attending. That would be great in a perfect world. Although this scene is hardly ideal, at least they’re not out in the world and they’re contained.

In scenario 2, the danger here is that this event is not supposed to be open to all ages. There’s no such thing as an after party that ends before midnight. In NSW no minor is permitted to be on licensed premises after midnight under ANY circumstances. That’s why this one should be an over 18 year event, and everyone underage is supposed to go straight home, full stop!

If a venue of any license type is selling after party packages involving wrist-bands to identify who is over or under 18 for alcohol service purposes, that’s already a red flag that the event is illegal and the venue is in breach of their license restrictions. You can’t sell a method of identifying minors when no minors are permitted on site by law. That’s a legal contradiction and anyone doing it is a scoundrel.

There are reputable venues and agencies organising bona-fide and legal after party events if you feel inclined to ask and guide your students on this subject, which I do recommend you do. Again you can’t apply the brakes to this issue, but you can help steer a safer route.