Getty Images

AS HIGH SCHOOL exams begin to wrap up, we’re fast approaching that time of year when news bulletins are filled with scenes of drunken school leavers causing mischief and mayhem on the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and other coastal towns. But there are reports that ‘Schoolies’, the annual ‘rite of passage’ that sees Australian teenagers celebrate finishing school and indulging their new-found freedom with sustained revelry, is beginning to evolve. Instead, many high school leavers are choosing to eschew hedonism and debauchery for pursuits geared towards leisure activities and self-care, basically things that don’t involve alcohol.

Data in recent years shows young people are drinking less than they used to. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the number of young people aged 14-24 drinking at lifetime risky levels almost halved between 2001 and 2019—from 25 per cent down to 13.1. per cent.

A survey commissioned by booking site found “being with my best friends and having quality time together” was rated as most important to students attending schoolies in 2023.

The first obvious question is how the fuck today’s youth became so sensible and responsible? A focus on wellness pursuits and self-care doesn’t really compute with the moral panic about a generation raised on screens, social media, YouTube and TikTok, does it? Or perhaps it does, and we should chill out about screens and social media. Honestly these days, it can be difficult to know where exactly to direct your panic.

Of course, there are some who would call young people’s commitment to leisure activities and self-improvement boring, though that reaction perhaps masks insecurities that your own youth would have been a snore-fest if you didn’t have alcohol to have fun, which in the absence of cool tech and social media, it might have. Seriously, hanging around in a park with a six-pack of stubbies or a bag of goon is simply not that much fun without the six-pack and the goon. It just isn’t. Any Boomers, Xers or even Millennials decrying modern youth’s rejection of alcohol as the sole means to have fun are either incredulous or just bitter that they aren’t young anymore.

You do hope these school leavers will have some ‘fun’ and get up to a little bit of mischief—steal a street sign for crissakes, although as anyone who’s woken up after a night out to a lounge room sign-posted with ‘Moon St’ and some traffic cones perched on a lamp can attest, these souvenirs of good times begin to look rather questionable, not to mention incongruous, once the last drop of alcohol has passed through your system. They also quickly become a nuisance.

It’s worth noting that most of this new-found focus on self-care at the expense of excessive alcohol consumption appears to be female led. I’m still waiting for someone to explain what constitutes ‘self-care’ for men. For most 18-year-old guys it probably doesn’t involve a yoga retreat or maxing out your dad’s credit card in a Japanese shopping mall.

Sony Pictures

So, what could it involve? Some type of recreational activity, let’s say a multi-day hike, an Indonesian surf trip, perhaps attending an overseas sporting event? All of these options are, of course, predicated on the particular group of youths being funded by the bank of mum and dad, as it’s difficult to see part-time jobs at Maccas coming close to covering these kinds of luxe experiences. And let’s face it, those that can afford to do a major Schoolies trip have either been particularly industrious during their teenage years or are just privileged. That’s probably always been the case; since Schoolies began back in the ’70s, those that couldn’t afford a trip to the Goldie made do with something closer to home, even if it was just a bag of goon in the local park.

Which brings us to a rather inconvenient truth—all of these activities, be they self-care journeys or growth experiences, sound great but are normally the preserve of 30-50-year-olds with disposable incomes. If you start ticking off bucket-list-level activities at 18, what the heck are you going to do when you’re 50? A Virgin Galactic trip to the edge of space? A subterranean journey to the Mariana Trench? The point is, should you really be ticking off your bucket-list at 18 or is that age better suited to vomiting into buckets? I don’t know.

That leads to a few final questions that we don’t yet have data on to provide conclusive answers. For one, if you don’t get a certain amount of debauchery, hedonism and mayhem out of your system when you’re young, what happens to that impulse? Does it lie dormant for decades before exploding in your fifties in a frenzy of binge-drinking and random hook-ups? Will there be a harvest of suddenly hedonistic 55-year-olds ready to wreak havoc on coastal towns? And if there is, will that cohort of former self-care growth seekers regret that they didn’t let their hair down before male-pattern baldness robbed them of the chance to do it? It’s possible.

Either way, we should perhaps prepare ourselves in coming decades for scenes on the nightly news of inebriated 50-year-olds tearing up the Goldie. If and when that happens, it will certainly be something to panic about.


Planning a trip for 2024 and beyond? Here are five travel trends to look out for

Men and social uniforms: an investigation