The party never stops
Everyone agrees that teen drinking in Denmark is out of control, but no-one wants to take responsibility for fixing the problem
We are more than drinking and sex. We want to do things to make the world a better place."
Hordes of drunk teenagers filling the streets every weekend have been a reality for so long that they have almost become a cliché. But the weekend isn’t enough anymore. Marketing efforts by clubs, discos and bars are adding ever more nights to the seemingly endless party.
It’s called lille fredag (little Friday) ... but in reality it is just Thursday night. Clubs and bars in towns throughout the country market it to high school students as an early, extra weekend night. The kids are offered deals on trays full of shots of alcohol and often they carry on drinking until it is time for them to go to class on Friday morning.
The Jutland town of Silkeborg is home to Silkeborg Gymnasium – the nation’s largest upper-secondary school with nearly 1,400 students – and several other trade and technical schools. What educators call the “minefield” of the town’s many drinking establishments lies within walking distance of all of them.
Torben Jessen, the head of Silkeborg Handelsskole, a trade-orientated upper-secondary school, said that Thursday night partying by his students has resulted in increased Friday morning absenteeism. And he said that many of the kids who do manage to turn up on Friday morning are simply too wasted to learn.
Jessen has called for a meeting this month between educators and those involved in Silkeborg’s nightlife – an initiative that is supported by Erik Olesen, the headteacher of Silkeborg Gymnasium.
“It would make the job of secondary education easier if there was no opportunity to go into town after midnight on Thursday,” Olesen told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “I fully support the school opening the debate.”
Jessen said his school was not afraid to play hardball with clubs and bars that did not want to shoulder some of the responsibility for making sure students get to school on Friday.
“We work with a number of discos when we have parties at school,” Jessen told Jyllands-Posten. “We have told them that if they did not work with us on this [Thursday] problem, we will not use them to cater for our parties of up to 1,000 students.”
Nicky Nielsen, the owner of the city’sBuddy Holly bar, said that there are often school kids sitting in the club at closing time who ask if they can just hang around until school opens for the day.
“I realise that is not a good situation,” Nielsen told Midtjyllands Avis newspaper.
Tommy Gubi, the owner of the Villa nightclub, refused to take any responsibility for getting kids to class.
“It is up to the school and the parents,” Gubi told Midtjyllands Avis. “Making students go to school is not a club’s job. They just abolished closing laws for retailers, so why should our ability to compete be restricted?”
Stenhus Gymnasium in Holbaek has forbidden alcohol on any school study trip. Students were drinking so much during trips that precious little studying was getting done.
“Students were far too tired to study effectively during the trip,” headteacher Per Farbøl told the trade magazine Gymnasieskolen. “Every night there were always a few so drunk that other students were forced to look after them.”
Olesen said he is not sure an outrightban is the right solution.
“Overall, I think that it is about changing young people’s attitudes about alcohol, and that requires efforts from several different directions,” he said. He added that schools must do their part and that his school, along with several others, is looking at alcohol restrictions.
Students at Stenhus Gymnasium protested when the school introduced the drinking ban three years ago, but teachers say that the quality of their work during study trips has improved.
Jim Jørgensen, the manager of the Australian Bar in Copenhagen, stopped a promotion that involved handing out drinks tickets to students at several schools and challenging them to come to the bar on Thursday nights to see which school could down the most free shots. Teachers at the schools would hand out personalised invitations to the kids. The bars mined the students’ names from the school’s computer system.
“You would come back from a break, and there would be a nice invitation with your name printed on it lying on a teacher’s desk ,” said Christian Sforzini Graugaard, the student council president at Gefion Gymnasium. “The fact that teachers handed out the invitations made it feel like a school-sponsored activity.”
Jørgensen stopped the promotion after school officials complained and the bar was threatened with legal action for violating laws prohibiting the direct marketing of alcohol to minors.
But that’s not to say that some teachers and schools don’t continue to promote drinking.
A father who preferred not to be identified for this story sent his teenage daughter on what he believed was a school-sanctioned event.
“She went with one of her teachers and a few other students to a concert,” he said. “It ended a bit late, but I figured it would be okay since they were with a teacher.”
The man’s daughter phoned him at three in the morning, very drunk and in need of a ride home. He asked his daughter where the teacher was and why he was not looking out for the kids.
“He was drunker than the rest of us,” the daughter replied. “I think he passed out somewhere.”
The school involved said it had no knowledge of the specific incident, but that it took the problem of teenage drinking “very seriously”.
The teenage girl, however, said that teachers often drink with students on study trips and help the seniors arrange drinking challenges to ‘initiate’ younger students.
Jerome Lacarriere is a pub owner and a parent from Aalborg in north Jutland. He said that his pub generally draws an older crowd and that he blames an overall lax sense of morality in Denmark for contributing to teen drinking.
“It’s the superficial environment these kids grow up in,” he said. “Those stupid reality shows that glorify drinking, smoking, sex and covering your body with so-called ‘cool’ tattoos play a big part in it.”
Jesper Jürgensen is the head media spokesperson for SBS TV and Kanal 5, the broadcasters behind the reality show ‘Kongerne af Rømø’ in which a group of 18 to 25-year-olds spend a few weeks in a summerhouse, drinking, having sex (or at least trying to), getting naked and sometimes arrested. He disagreed that his show was contributing to teenage drinking problems, even though the demographics show that a large part of the audience for the programme is young teens.
“I don’t buy it,” he said. “A TV show that is on for one hour a week at 10pm is not going to have an effect on whether teenagers are drinking or not.”
Jürgensen said that young people have been drinking at music festivals, parties and clubs since the ‘60s and that shows like ‘Kongerne of Rømø’ reflect, rather than create, reality.
Some students are getting weary of news reports and shows that portray their generation as little more than drunken, sex-crazed maniacs.
“I think it is sad that we are seen as ridiculous and unintelligent,” one student, Martine Amalie Krogh, said during an online debate sponsored by Politiken newspaper. “We are more than drinking and sex. We want to do things to make the world a better place.”