The most interesting response I received however was from Naomi Oakley, a name that would be familiar to many who live in Melbourne. Naomi is the Managing Director of U Nome Security, a private security firm that specialises in looking after underage and young adult parties. In the last 18 months she has worked personally on around 700 such events and she is passionate about improving the safety at teen parties. Naomi and I have spoken a number of times about the changes we have seen in recent times around teens and partying and she featured heavily in a news article in the Sunday Herald Sun a couple of weeks ago warning parents against 'pre-loading' their underage children with alcohol before they head out to party.
Naomi and her staff regularly have to deal with underage young people arriving at parties hopelessly drunk after consuming too much alcohol beforehand, often at pre-parties hosted by parents. She is quoted in the article as saying "Sometimes when they rock up, they're gone. The usual comment from the parents is that it's peer group pressure and they bow to whatever the kids want." I asked her to provide an example of a teen party where things just didn't work out as planned ...
"I was working a supposed 'dry' 16th birthday when one teenager arrived already drunk and on medication. He had to be physically restrained by my security team to ensure that he didn't run away and go out onto the road. Duty of care means that you can't just turn them away because then they're in harm’s way. Once we identify that they are alcohol or drug-affected, whether they're invited or not, we still need to ensure that they are safe. We managed to get on to his parents via the host but he was going downhill fast. We had to call 000 for assistance and when the police and paramedics arrived they also had to use physical force to control the young man to prevent him from hurting himself or others around him. His parents turned up to an extremely confronting situation, finding their teenage son being bundled into an ambulance and transported to hospital.
At the same party we had another young teenage girl locate the host's liquor cabinet and 'borrow' a bottle of vodka. The young girl was passed out on the lawn and also needed medical assistance via a paramedic only 45 minutes after the first incident.
We had adequate parent support (one was a doctor) that night but it was hectic. On top of this the party venue was poorly lit and we had gatecrashers trying to get in from all angles."
Naomi believes that parents have to be heavily involved in the planning stages of a party. Her company offers a free safety assessment of the party venue and before she takes on any booking the parents must complete a 20-point checklist. The parents also need to agree that the party be registered at the local police station just in case there are any problems on the night.
As parties are getting bigger and bigger (I've heard of 16th birthday parties with over 200 invitees and a 15th birthday party in Melbourne for a young man last year that was for 300 'plus one'!), Naomi's job gets more difficult. When you add increasing numbers of pre-parties being held every weekend and growing numbers of preloaded teens turning up to the events it becomes highly problematic! Of course kids need to go to parties and there are going to have to be parents who agree to hosting these events but there also need to be boundaries set around acceptable behaviour. It all comes down to that one little word that some parents seem reluctant to use where their children are concerned - 'no'! Do you really need to have 100 invitees, plus one? No! Do you have to tolerate teen drinking in your home? No! They're not going to like it much but that's what parenting is all about!