Sunday 17 November 2019

Junior Cert results night: 'We parents look away and let them copy us and get drunk'

The students are likely to lose their memories of childhood falling around Temple Bar tonight.
The students are likely to lose their memories of childhood falling around Temple Bar tonight.

Victoria White

Tonight's the night. The Junior Certificate results came out this morning and the kids will be celebrating their achievements.

My boy will be among them, and already I've had to tussle to make him attend the paint-balling organised in an attempt to keep them out of trouble.

He'll still be back in time for the disco, though, and I'm worried.

There's well-intentioned advice from DrinkAware about celebrating without drink. The special discos are alcohol-free. But can you celebrate without alcohol?

It's not possible, is it? Even if they're still three years away from the legal drinking age.

Official Ireland ritualistically tut-tuts every year but does nothing to change our culture in the fundamental way that would be necessary to avoid having comatose kids on the pavement tonight.

Official Ireland washes its hands of results night. If it didn't, it would stop them going out and getting drunk and it would offer options.

I don't mean "Why don't you just stay in and order pizza while your friends are all out having a good time?"

I mean optional coming of age rituals, because that's what results night is. In some ways it's no different to coming of age rituals in primitive societies.

The children have to show physical strength to survive the poison of alcohol. Drinking also implies sexual availability.

It's one way to leave childhood behind and, in some ways, it's a bit more pleasant than some coming of age rituals around the world.

Girls in some communities in Paraguay and Brazil are tattooed all over.

While many of the girls' rituals are just about fertility, most of the boys' are about being a warrior.

One Indian tribe in Quebec imprisons young men and drugs them until their memories of childhood are gone.

They're likely to lose their memories of childhood falling around Temple Bar tonight.

However, it's definitely better than being scarred for life in one of the ghastly genital mutilation procedures that accompany puberty for women in parts of Africa.

Results night may be fairly tame by comparison with this barbarism, but it has all the hallmarks of a coming of age ritual, all the same.

With one exception - in all other societies it's parents and other adults who organise the ritual. In our society, the kids do.

I think that's the real problem here. Our failure as adults to take responsibility for how our kids enter our world.

I'm not looking for tattoos or neck rings or nose rings, but even in the US, 'Sweet Sixteen' parties are organised by parents on parents' terms.

The very expression Sweet Sixteen is stomach-turning, but at least the kids' stomachs aren't being turned by drink.

Which is just as well, because the keys of a new car are frequently handed over. That's a hefty enough price for making a child an adult.

However, what's important is the ritual of transition.

In the US, driving marks the transition to adulthood. Here, it's drinking.

We parents pretend otherwise. We look away and let them get on with it. They copy us. They get drunk.

The "psssht" of the ringpull on the beer can is the signal my 18-year-old gives his younger sibs that he's entered a different realm.

As a marker of adulthood, it's absolutely pathetic.

Even driving your new automatic car is harder than opening your mouth and swallowing a can of sugary liquid, something you learned to do when you were weaned on to bottles as a baby.

However, that's what our kids do to show they can "hold their drink". What does that expression mean?

That you can pour drink in and not pee or puke it out straight away? What a feat.

We don't need another day of well-meaning anxiety followed by pictures in the paper of our children being stretchered into ambulances.

We need a proper conversation about new rituals for entering our world, such as climbing a mountain or rowing to an island or walking a pilgrim road.

In a straight line.


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