Music festivals like the Big Day Out, Splendour in The Grass and Good Vibrations have all become major events, with most capital cities and even some of the smaller cities across the country hosting such events. Over the years I have been involved with the organisation and running of some major dance parties and have also been contracted by a number of promoters to assist them with advice around alcohol and other drug safety. Years ago these events were only open to those aged 18 years or over but in recent times there has been a major shift and we are now seeing younger and younger teens attending music festivals.
One of the questions I get asked by many parents is what happens at these events and should I allow my child to attend?
Firstly I would say from a person who has attended dance festivals (in days gone by), as well as worked at many (from an organizer, medical, law enforcement liaison and crowd control perspective) I believe that these are not appropriate for anyone under 16 years of age (although of course this does really depend on so many things - any parent would know that the maturity of a teenager between the age of 15 and 18 can vary considerably). If I was really honest I think they really should have stayed at only being open to those 18 years and above but I’m terrified that this is just me getting older and becoming more conservative in my views! That said, I know this is a view that is shared by many promoters, as well as those who work at these events. These large-scale music festivals can be quite an overwhelming experience for some young people and they certainly are being exposed to a very specific culture that they may not have the maturity to cope with effectively.
Historically there is a strong link between ecstasy and the dance culture. The drug’s popularity increased through the 80s and 90s as the international dance scene grew. Some people who attend music festivals, dance events and nightclubs certainly use ecstasy and other drugs to 'enhance' their experience - altering their perception and giving them energy to dance for long periods of time. This does not mean that all people who are part of this culture use illegal drugs. However, it is important for parents to know that it is highly likely that their child will come into contact with drugs such as ecstasy if they regularly attend such events. Talking about drugs and letting your child know how you feel about drug use will play an important part in helping your child make good decisions in the future.
Young people take part in a range of different activities during their adolescence and beyond. Some of these activities involve risk-taking. Risks range from driving fast cars, abseiling down cliffs and drinking alcohol. Unfortunately, some young people will experiment with illegal drugs no matter what we try to do. Trying to prevent your child from taking part in things they like to do is likely to cause a great deal of problems in your relationship.That said, I believe it is totally acceptable for a parent to tell their adolescent that they believe that some activities are not suitable for young people - some activities are 'adult activities'!
If parents do choose to allow their child to attend music festivals they should make sure they voice their concerns and set rules and boundaries around behaviour. If you are concerned about drug use, let them know and tell them why you are worried. Keep the lines of communication open and let them know at every opportunity that they can come to you and talk about anything at anytime. Even though you may not know much about these drugs, take the opportunity to learn about them with your child. Be as honest as you can when you talk about drugs and don’t try to exaggerate the facts to scare them - warning them that if they try 'this or that' they could die is most probably not going to ring true to most young people. Certainly there are risks and there have been deaths linked to the use of ecstasy and related drugs, but they are not the norm and parents have to be careful in focusing on only the more extreme potential harms.
If you are very concerned that your child may get into a difficult or problematic situation make an emergency plan. For example, if they are out and have no way of getting home let them know that they can catch a taxi and you will pay. If they call you in the middle of the night that you won’t lose it, but will help. This does not mean that you are saying it is okay to take drugs or behave in ways of which you may not approve. But, it does mean that you will be there if thing go wrong in their lives. It also gives you the opportunity to openly communicate about what has gone wrong after the event as you are immediately “in-the-know” because you have been there for them.
It is also important to teach your child what to do in an emergency. Basic first aid skills, as well as simple information such as how to call 000, may help save a life. Reinforce to your child that in a drug related emergency that the ambulance officers do not have to call the police, unless the person is refusing to seek treatment or there is the risk of injury to them.
Young people involved in the music festival scene also need to know the legal consequences of taking drugs such as ecstasy. New policing strategies such as drug detection dogs and roadside drug testing have resulted in more people from the dance culture being prosecuted for drug offences. Let your child know how being caught for using drugs will affect the rest of their lives.
Finally, make it very clear where you stand about the use of illegal drugs. As much as you may believe your views do not matter to your child, research shows that parental influence is still a major factor in the decisions many young people make.
So to summarise, there certainly is a link between music festivals, dance culture and drug use, however not all young people who go to dance events use drugs. Parents who are concerned should talk about drugs such as ecstasy with their child and let them know how they feel about drug use. It can also be useful to establish an emergency plan with your child if things do go wrong; this does not mean that you are condoning drug use or other unacceptable behaviour, but it does mean that you can be there for your child if things do go wrong.