Opinion

Thursday 25 April 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Maga' rite of passage for teens is hell for parents

The post Leaving Certificate holiday has become a rite of passage. Picture posed by models
The post Leaving Certificate holiday has become a rite of passage. Picture posed by models

Ciara Kelly

I spent a lot of time leading up to the Leaving Cert talking about how best to cope with the stressful effects on students and, indeed parents, of what is arguably the toughest set of exams any Irish person will ever sit - irrespective of what they do in college.

However, I can honestly say what I'm facing now has me far more worried than an English paper II, or higher-level biology ever could. And that is the dreaded post Leaving Cert 'Shagaluf' holiday.

Yes, for thousands of families around the country, this week brings the incredible fear and tension - for parents at least - of their teenage progeny en masse heading to hot foreign climes. The Majorcan resort of Magaluf - or 'Maga' as it's drunkenly called in chants along its strip at night - has, for its sins, become a Mecca for Irish 18-year-olds heading off, post-exams, to sunbathe, drink, hook up with the opposite sex and possibly get ill-conceived tattoos.

And that's only if everything goes according to plan. I, for one, will live in fear for the whole week until some bedraggled article turns up on my doorstep next week, hopefully having decided that what has become a rite of passage for Irish teens is not something that ever needs to be repeated. To be honest, I can sort of accept there is more drink, sex, sun and even tattoos going on in these places than I would like. But my deepest fear is that some genuine harm might befall my beloved child - who may look to strangers like a capable, fully-grown young man but to me, who remembers every temperature and cut knee he has had for the past 18 years , is still just a boy.

My fears are not around sunburn, STIs and hangovers - although clearly I would prefer him to avoid those, too. My fears are around falls from balconies. Late-night swims resulting in drowning. Drunken fights, that in the cold light of day no one can remember the reasons for, but that leaves someone with a fractured skull. And road traffic accidents that should never have happened. Basically, I fear something happening that might result in me never seeing him alive or well again. And, yes, I've thought a lot about this!

So I've done my best. I took out a hefty travel insurance policy for him. I lectured him until it became a mantra about not swimming if he's been drinking. I talked about road safety and walking away from fights. I warned about dirty needles in dodgy tattoo parlours. I insisted on a daily text to let me know he's alive. I even woke him up one night when I heard about a poor lad falling off a balcony, to make him promise me he'd avoid balconies in general.

I laid on warnings, fast and thick, in the hope that some bit of it might stick. And, yet, I cannot be certain in any way that it will. He is a good kid. His friends are good kids. But you can never be sure that he won't just be unlucky. And that you will regret this trip forever and for always.

And yet I will let him go. And therein lies the great tragedy of parenting. You have to let them fly the nest, even though you know they may get hurt. Protecting them from all the dangers of the world just isn't an option. However much you may want to wrap them in cotton wool - you simply cannot do it.

I would love it if I had a child who wanted to stay home and read books. Or even go away to somewhere quiet-ish and do culturally edifying things. But that's not my child or lots of other people's children. Because I know I'm not alone - there are thousands of parents lighting candles and saying novenas in unison with me around the country this week because of this. And all of us feel helpless in the face of it. And, truth be told, if we were the same age as them - I'm pretty sure that we would want our week in the sun, too.

All I can say is I hope, come this time next week, this is all a distant memory and everyone's child is back home safe and well.

Oh, and by the way, today is the last day you can change your CAO application. So if you feel like a bit of revenge parenting and signing them up to jam-making instead of medicine, now's your last chance!

Misbehaving can be a two-way street.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' on Newstalk weekdays 12-2

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