It's time that parents stopped funding the drunken debauchery of post-exam holidays
Published 10/07/2014 | 02:30
I am very grateful to Mary Coughlan. She is a woman who has been around the block a few times. I don't think she could ever be described as old fashioned, or conservative or out of touch with reality.
This week, Mary stated loud and clear that our children are in trouble. She was referring specifically to the thousands of Irish teenagers who decamp to the Spanish holiday island of Majorca for what has, in the last decade or so, become a 'tradition', that of the post-Leaving Cert holiday. She knows first-hand, unlike most of us, what she is talking about, as she had to fly to Majorca to rescue her 17-year-old son and bring him home.
Why am I grateful to her? Because as a parent of teenagers myself, I know too well that there is a kind of conspiracy of silence from parents about this particular madness of the post-Leaving Cert holiday.
Sure, we all express our unease about it. In fact, many parents I know hate it. But still we comply with our little darlings; we facilitate their holiday, albeit with massive reservations. We send them off and then pray and pray that they will be OK and come home unscathed from the experience.
My eldest daughter is 27. She left school back in 2006 when, as far as I can remember, the post-Leaving Cert holiday was a fairly new idea. As soon as she went back to school in the September of her final year, her first priority was to get the holiday booked. The resort of choice at that time was Ayia Napa in Cyprus. I wasn't entirely happy about the idea of hundreds of local boys and girls all descending on the same resort for two weeks of fun, but this was before smart phones and it was my imagination that was fuelling my unease.
It was 2006 and the height of Celtic Tiger excesses and, according to my daughter, "everyone went on the holiday" and "the deal is that parents pay for it". I wondered why I had no memory of signing up to this 'deal' she spoke about. There was also the line about how she would be studying hard all year and so was 'entitled' to this break in the sun at the end of it. I rolled over and the holiday was booked. She at least was working part-time and so funded her own spending money.
Other parents tell me that nothing has changed. The "sixth-year holiday" is now enshrined into our young people's lives as a 'right of passage' in the same way as the debs was back in the '70s and '80s. There are two versions – one is directly after the Leaving Cert, the second comes the week after the results come out.
The death of the Celtic Tiger has not changed this particular form of madness. And the madness has escalated, as Mary Coughlan outlined: "I've never seen anything like it in my entire life! Drink, drugs & debauchery the like of I've never seen ever in my whole life."
Mary went on to say "kids are in hos-pital ...have had their money stolen . . . been badly beaten up." She seemed genuinely disturbed at what she saw. She mentioned the sight of young girls walking in the street wearing only shoes and thongs and carrying large, pint-sized alcoholic drinks as being particularly upsetting.
We need to listen to what Mary is telling us. Then we need to ask why are we afraid to say no to our almost adult children? I know that many of them are 18 when they go on the post-Leaving Cert holiday but all are probably still living at home and, in my experience, the majority are being funded by their parents.
It is time that we seek to make meaningful connections with the parents of our teenagers' friends and to seriously think about what we are doing. There is so much talk today about mental health issues for young people, about cyber bullying and safe sex. But still we think it's somehow OK to facilitate this madness, this debauchery, as Mary Coughlan bluntly put it.
So thank you, Mary – for being direct, for breaking the silence and for telling it like it is. The next batch of kids will be booking their post-Leaving Cert holiday in September. I am sure already their parents are hearing all the same arguments as to how they 'have' to go and will need the money come September and how once booked they can then buckle down to college and the next round of study.
It takes a special strength to stand up and to say no and to refuse to provide the funds necessary. And if our kids hate us for 'ruining their summer or even their lives', so what? They'll get over it. Some may even be relieved.