YOU know that TV show about teenagers misbehaving abroad? Sun, Sex And Suspicious Parents, it’s called, and it pretty much does what it says on the tin. Naive couples, who have tried to raise their children according to the Amish model, tail them to various hotspots – Magaluf, Malia, Zante, Ibiza – with a camera crew in tow, and spy on them as they get up to all sorts of unedifying antics, such as baring their buttocks, drinking cheap spirits and visiting strip joints.
“What kind of parents would betray their children’s trust like that?” is what I thought when I first became aware of the programme back in 2011. Now, I think: “What kind of parents would want to know?” When it comes to the stunts your thrill-seeking, hormone-racked, you-only-live-once kids pull, you’re better off in the dark.
‘From the moment they arrive, teenagers are targeted by tour reps’
I speak as one of thousands of parents who last week waved their in-betweener off to just such a resort on what has become an end-of-school rite of passage. He left on Thursday and – a few curt “Yes, I’m alive” texts aside – that’s the last we heard of him. I could trawl his friends’ Facebook pages looking for evidence of liquor-fuelled licentiousness, but so long as I don’t, I am free to imagine him lying on a beach smothered in Factor 50 and engrossed in the book I assume he bought at the airport (weirdly, he didn’t pack one).
Or rather, I would be free to imagine him like that if pesky newspapers didn’t keep supplying me with alternative scenarios, most of them involving injury or a stint in a police cell. The injuries are almost always sustained in balcony incidents – see Scot Jenna McAlpine, currently in hospital after falling 15ft off hers. And the cells, being foreign, are always filthy.
If it’s not the physical perils they’re highlighting, it’s the moral ones; the tabloids are never done exposing the spiritual degradation, publishing Hieronymus Bosch-inspired photographs that make Sodom and Gomorrah seem like wholesome family resorts. If the papers are lucky, they will find someone willing to become the “voice” of youthful decadence. Last week, they struck gold with mental health nurse Hannah MacDonald, who responded to the bid to crack down on drinking in the streets in Magaluf, with the line: “We’re here to get f***ing mortal and just love life.”
I’m not suggesting there is no problem in these 18-30-type towns (although, when you look closely at the images, most of them show high-spirited kids swigging from a bottle and covered in foam, which is hardly degeneracy of the “hell in a handcart” variety). In my last column I talked about our troubled relationship with alcohol, and the worst of what happens in Magaluf et al is Saturday nights in British cities writ large: the drunkenness, the fighting, the falling over. But the heat and freedom intensify emotions and ramp up the physical and sexual recklessness. Every year, a handful of people die and many more do things they’ll spend the rest of their lives regretting. Ask the 18-year-old woman filmed performing sex acts on 24 men for a £4 cocktail.
Such holidaymakers cannot be absolved of all responsibility, but most young people do not behave so excessively, and those who do are easy prey for a tourism industry which trades on its ability to exploit the British weakness for binge-drinking. From the moment they arrive, these teenagers are targeted by tour reps pushing them to sign up for pub crawls, the sole point of which is to get paralytic.
According to the Club 18-30 website, Zante means “only one thing – wild nights EVERY night”. Teenagers are advised to get ready for “the concoctions in a Fishbowl where it’s only 5 Euros for a fishbowl to share”. The aforementioned 18-year-old woman was on a pub crawl called Carnage Magaluf which is renowned for pressurising punters into public sex acts. Today, the Carnage website continues to promote itself it by the number of drinks consumed: 635,904 in the last three years.
Such hedonism may offend the most broad-minded of observers, but teenagers who drink too much and sleep around are merely engaging in a ritual that has been sold to them as the way to be young and free. They are like debutantes at a dysfunctional coming-of-age party; however wrong it feels to outsiders, they are in tune with the prevailing cultural norms.
This is not true of Eleanor Hawkins, jailed for stripping off at the top of Mount Kinabalu, in Malaysia, a sacred spot believed by the local tribe to be a resting place for dead souls. It may seem nonsensical to us to suggest – as one government official did – that their nakedness caused an earthquake, but Hawkins’ behaviour was inappropriate and more disrespectful than getting drunk in a resort purpose-built for drunkenness.
Magaluf has every right to try to reinvent itself; it has brought in rules – a ban on drinking on the streets, fines for balcony-surfing, restrictions on pub crawls – which everyone seems hell-bent on ignoring, but which may take effect eventually. It shouldn’t expect miracles, though. It is difficult to clean up when so much money is generated by the mess and other resorts have tried and failed.
As for me, I’m going to try not to worry too much. My son doesn’t drink (or he didn’t when he left) so he has probably copped for the job of ensuring everyone else gets safely home. The worst he’ll be is bored. That’s what I’m telling myself. If you know different, please don’t get in touch. «