With ATAR exams at an end, Year 12 students across the country are embarking on the rite of passage that is Leavers week. It marks the end of their high school journeys, and their first real steps into adulthood. It’s a time for celebration, relaxation, and bonding with friends. But as a clinical psychologist and drug and alcohol specialist, I also understand that it can be a period of heightened risks. Let’s explore how to have a serious yet light-hearted conversation with your teens about the dangers of Leavers, what to look out for, the red flags, and how to keep them safe. The foundation of any conversation about Leavers safety is open and honest communication. Start by showing your teens that you respect their newfound independence and trust their decision-making skills. This approach will encourage them to listen to your advice and share their plans. Leavers is often tainted by a culture of heavy drinking. You should discuss the risks of excessive alcohol consumption with your teen, which can lead to alcohol poisoning, accidents, or vulnerable situations. Share concrete examples and stats with them, emphasising that having a good time doesn’t just depend on alcohol. Use real life examples to illustrate your points such as: “I heard about a recent incident where someone at Leavers drank too much and had to be rushed to the hospital. It’s crucial to know your limits and make sure your friends do, too”. Being vigilant and aware of red flags is essential. Keep an eye on your teen’s behaviour and watch for signs of trouble, such as: sudden changes in their friendship groups or a reluctance to share plans; reckless behaviour, such as dangerous stunts or aggression; signs of substance abuse, including bloodshot eyes or unusual smells on their clothing; a dramatic decline in their general attitude, or a lack of interest in future plans. If you notice any of these red flags, approach your teen calmly and empathetically to understand their perspective. If they’ve got themselves in to trouble, they may be too scared to come to you, so be as approachable as you possibly can. It’s important to establish clear boundaries for Leavers. Discuss curfews, alcohol consumption, and the consequences of breaking the rules. Make it clear that your teen’s safety is your number one priority, while also acknowledging the need for enjoyment. Explain that you want them to have fun, but that you need to agree on certain boundaries before they go. Ask them what time they plan to be back at their accommodation? How much alcohol they intend to consume, and what their plan is for getting home safely? Ensure your teens are prepared for emergencies. Provide them with a charged phone, access to local emergency numbers, and the contact information of trusted adults. Teach them to recognise when a situation is becoming dangerous, how to leave it and how to ask for help. While addressing the risks, also emphasise the positive aspects of Leavers, such as creating lasting memories and celebrating school accomplishments. Share stories of responsible Leavers celebrations to inspire your teens to make safe choices. Leavers is a big time of transition and celebration for Year 12 students. As a parent, you can help guide them by having an evidence-based, open, and empathetic conversation about the dangers and how to stay safe. Balancing seriousness with a light-hearted approach allows for a constructive and meaningful discussion at home. Remember, it’s about creating trust, empowering responsible decision-making, and reinforcing the importance of their safety and wellbeing. By approaching this with love and understanding, you can help your teens have a memorable and safe Leavers, while also encouraging them to be responsible adults in the world at large, looking after themselves and their friends in the process. Donna Stambulich is a clinical psychologist.