Ball season renews teen alcohol debate
Fri, 25 May 2012 11:10a.m.
By Anna Ferrick
High school ball season has officially begun, with some schools nationwide holding their annual balls over the past three weekends.
School balls have been controversial in previous years with many schools now banning afterparties and breath-testing students as they arrive.
Sally Haughton, principal of Wellington East Girls College, says the school made the decision to breath test students after consultation with the community, including students.
“We are seeking to find and model safe ways of socialising," she says.
“We started talking with our school community in 2008 about making some changes to the expectations and structure of school events, in the first instance the ball and later school dances.
“We weren't facing any particular challenges, but felt that we could be providing a safer environment.”
Ms Haughton believes society is becoming more aware of the effect alcohol has on youth.
“I think that there is less social tolerance for misuse of alcohol and a greater understanding of the cost of alcohol related harm. Our school community is seeking to help students think about these issues.”
David Hodge, principal at Rangitoto College – New Zealand’s largest high school – says there are no arranged afterparties following the ball, but small parties in private homes are not a problem.
Rangitoto College was embroiled in controversy following its decision to cancel its ball in 2010 due to an afterparty organised by parents the school had not approved.
Mr Hodge says afterballs have always been an issue of contention and bring up wider social issues.
“Afterballs really are just a symbolic point where a wide range of critical issues around middle and upper class teenagers come to the fore.
“These include the role of the parent who wants to be their child’s friend,” he says, "the divide between the way different groups of parents view their 17 and 18-year-olds – put crudely, those who believe they still need strict parental guidelines and those that believe that they should be given total freedom.”
He says the way students are drinking, along with the social use of drugs and party pills, is intertwined with the escalation of the level of social activity that it now takes for teenagers to consider something ‘fun’.
Mr Hodge says for his school the bottom line is always health and safety.
“As a school we cannot be in any way associated, either directly or indirectly, with an event or events that may put our students in a dangerous situation.”
Wellington student Zephyr Herriot says the controversy surrounding balls has made regulations regarding behaviour a lot stricter.
“It has influenced the way that parents and teachers see school balls," she says.
"Just because of that one incident, schools have become much more strict on ball regulations regarding consumption of alcohol and afterparties.”
Miss Herriot also believes students should be able to have a drink before their school balls.
"I think that if a student is clearly drunk then the teachers have a right to breath-test them, but I think it is fair for students in general to have a bit to drink before their big night that only comes around once a year.”
Anna Ferrick is a journalism student at AUT University.
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28/05/2012 9:02:44 a.m.
libby walker wrote:
Hi Anna! Keep up the great work, it was a fantastic read, very concerning to see that parents and teachers have such a low sense of trust for their students!
Can't wait for the next article!
27/05/2012 10:34:35 p.m.
Why don't parents and schools take a more proactive and responsible role monitoring and being involved with the school ball? There are schools that do a fantastic job without any issues - it really depends on what approach the parents and school take. Parents obviously also need to take personal responsibility for their own child.
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