Family grief at the death of a loved one can make you do strange things and in the case of the father of 17-year-old teenager, Megan Bell, who lost her life at this year's T in the Park festival, it's not always the right thing. The news of the tragic deaths at this year's T in the Park were saddening and eFestivals offers condolences to those who lost their loved-ones this summer.
The grieving father of four from Durham has started a petition to end family friendly music festivals by attempting to raise a barrier to all those aged under 21 years from attending music festivals. The knee jerk reaction comes after he says the death of his daughter who had also attended T in the Park last year, has now "opened his eyes" to the fact that youths may be taking drugs and drinking heavily.
Festivals these days are primarily a safe place where the young get to connect the great outdoors, where they make friends and widen their experiences through play, activities and workshops as well as dance and self-expression they can greatly develop. They also offer the chance to improve social skills, bond with friends and family over a shared experience and make a few treasured memories. Young people today already feel increased pressures compared to the past, and at festivals enjoy the chance to find themselves a bit more in a more equal environment. However this new call for legislation creates a threat to them having an opportunity to experience such events.
It's hard to believe that anyone would be unaware of the reputation some big events like T in the Park (sponsored by an alcohol company) have. For festival goers attending do sometimes drinking heavily, and also rather myopic of someone to not know that unsupervised teenagers partying anywhere are at risk of coming into contact with drink and drugs. It's not just festivals where this happens, and surely as a father of four he is aware that kids' want to have fun? His daughter had attended the event the previous year, did she upon her return not tell him what the event was like?
The petition page says that children as young as 14-15 are attending these events unsupervised. Megan, as a 16 year old last year, was able to attend the event without a guardian aged over 21. However the T in the Park ticket terms and conditions state that children under 16 must hold a full price ticket and must be accompanied by a guardian of over 21. It's the parent's responsibility to know what access restrictions might apply, and how their kids might behave over a festival weekend, and talk through with them the risks involved.
To try to outlaw all children at events which are family friendly is not the answer. Whilst there are probably people taking drugs and drinking heavily at festivals it's not the majority of attendees and nor should it be made the main issue. Parents should be aware of the temptations their children might encounter, and be made aware that alcohol is still a drug, and just as much of a risk to teens as illicit drugs. A drunk person is less likely to be able to make responsible decisions about their personal welfare. What's really not needed is a ban on youngsters at festivals, but a frank discussion about making sure young festival goers are protected as much as possible at events.
For the last few years drugs that are dangerous to people of any age have started to appear illicitly at festivals with deaths from lethal substances with similar effects to ecstasy like PMA (para-Methoxyamphetamine) and PMMA (para-Methoxymethamphetamine) rising dramatically. There's no way even the tightest drug policy and security can prevent all drugs ever entering festivals up and down the UK.
It's time for festival organisers to consider following the route of The Secret Garden Party who this year allowed their attendees to have their drugs checked before consumption (news here). There over 80 substances of concern were tested. What they found were very high-strength ecstasy pills, as well as multiple samples where contents had been misrepresented – including anti-malaria tablets sold as ketamine, and ammonium sulphate sold as MDMA. Surely responsible parents would not want their teenage children taking these substances?
The answer is not to make festivals kid free zones. Parents have a responsibility to ensure their children are made aware of the dangers of drink and drugs at any celebration, and trust them enough to be responsible. The issue here really is to educate youngsters not to risk their lives and to stop poisonous drugs being taken at events. A good starting point for parents and their children is the Frank Drug Advice website.
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