Meet Amy (which is not her real name), she is just 15 years old and has been looking forward to attending her boyfriend, Adam’s party in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
Adam’s parents thought they had covered all the main issues, printed invitations, security, a specific start and finish time. They even went so far as to cordon off parts of the house. They walked down to their local police station two weeks before the party to register with the Victoria Police Partysafe program which is about minimising the risks to safety at parties such as violence, intoxicated guests, or gatecrashers so that hosts and their guests can stay safe and have fun.
The police gave them the Partysafe information kit that contained information on strategies they hoped would assist in making their party safe and enjoyable. They carefully considered the number of people likely to attend the party, they had an interesting debate with their son over whether there should be alcohol. Adam argued that ‘everyone’s’ parents allowed drinking at parties these days and that he would be massively embarrassed if they went against this. After a heated and prolonged debate, Adam’s parents relent and a decision is reached that each invitees would be issued with 2 drink tokens that could be exchanged for beers.
Following the PartySafe information, Adam’s parent’s dutifully door-knocked their neighbours to let them know of the party and promised it would all be wrapped up by 1 am. They obtained consent from the parents or guardians of underage drinkers as the law requires and they made sure that Adam’s older brother had his responsible serving and provision of alcohol certificate. They drew up a medical emergency plan and registered the party a week before it was to be held They were being model millennium parents, doing their best to allow Adam and his mates to have a good time.
Fast forward to the night of the party. The young guests arrived, had their names ticked off at the door by one of the 3 security guards hired for the evening who searched the bags and ushered the invitees in. Amy turns up, with 4 other friends, all under age, all frocked up, but crucially slightly tipsy. This was entirely predictable as the last few hours, prior to turning up to the party, the five girls were having a drinking session at Amy’s house where the girls consumed a dozen mixed drinks and half a bottle of vodka.
At the door, the security guard asks for her bag, which contains a bottle of Mount Franklin water bottle tucked in her bag. She waves it in the face of the security guards, assuring them it is “just water”. They don’t check and she is admitted. Adam and Amy have a fight, she accuses him of kissing another girl and she is inconsolable. Within half an hour, Amy drinks the contents of the 300ml ‘water’ bottle, which contains pure vodka. She begins to feel unwell and goes unnoticed to the bathroom where she collapses. One of her friends notice she is missing and she gathers together her friends to look for her.
After a frantic search, Amy is discovered, unconscious at the bottom of the garden, hypothermic and with a weak pulse. She is not able to be roused. An ambulance is called and Amy is taken to hospital. The party is called off. Parents are summoned to collect their offspring.
Amy’s case is not an isolated incident. Talk to the police or ambos and you’ll find that such events are not at all unusual and her case could have ended in tragedy. A few years ago, Australian researchers revealed that one teenager on average dies each week from the risky use of a product they aren’t legally allowed to use.
So what might we do? The Family Peace Foundation recognises the research that shows that alcohol, when drunk in adolescence, can damage the parts of the brain responsible for learning. Adolescents who abused alcohol remembered 10 per cent less of what they were taught than those who didn’t drink.
Don’t fall for the line that Adam trotted out, namely the well worn and often repeated ‘everyone else’s parents allow alcohol at underage parties’ line. The Family Peace Foundation would ask that parents should stick to the ‘it’s my house – my rules’ argument along with a determination to debunk the myth that you can only have fun when alcohol is present.
The bottom line is that parents are strongly advised to follow the guidelines drawn up by the NHMRC which suggests parents adopt a zero tolerance alcohol policy until their sons and daughters are 18 years of age. None of this of course, would have stopped Amy from her pre-party drinking or her guzzling pure vodka, as we only have control over our own children, but it would have sent a message to the parents of the other party guests that no one ever died of embarrassment.