Underage drinking and illegal drug use are rife in DB. In assessing the situation, Sam Agars considers the causes and provides some level-headed advice for parents.
The fact that Discovery Bay has been a hub for underage drinking and illegal drug use for some time now is not exactly breaking news. Kids, as young as 13, are experimenting with drugs and alcohol in a cycle that is just about as predictable as the coming of tomorrow’s sunrise. In a tight-knit community like DB, young teenagers are hanging out with kids much older than those they might associate with overseas. Throw in the fact that young people can read up on just about anything over the internet, and the result is a setting in which exposure to drinking and drugging can occur at a very young age.
Most of this we know. The question is whether anything can be done to curb this behaviour, or if it’s in fact time to face the reality that, one way or another, the majority of teenagers are going to embark on this particular rite of passage.
Whether underage drinking and drug taking is actually increasing in DB, or it just seems that way because of the constant access to information and gossip via local social media, is hard to measure. But according to one resident, a 23-year-old, who spent his
teenage years in DB, kids are getting more confident and less respectful. James (not his real name) says one of the main haunts for drinking and drugging has always been Tai Pak Wan, especially on the benches near the swings and by the boat moorings.
“It’s an absolute tip, the rubbish left behind,” James says. “We always used to clean it up, leave no evidence, because otherwise people would take a photo and it would end up on one of the DB forums. Kids just don’t care nowadays.”
According to Sophie Garderet, a DBbased psychotherapy practitioner and mother of two teens, it is all too easy. “Kids here in DB can buy alcohol freely and many of them are given a lot of money so they can also afford to buy drugs if they choose to,” she says.
Just how easy it is for underage people to buy alcohol in DB would astound some parents. “7-Elevens don’t bat an eyelid; you wouldn’t even have to show ID,” James says. “Wellcome’s the same. There used to be a Filipino shop in DB Plaza that would sell beer, vodka and cigarettes. We’d be 16 and buying a bottle of vodka for HK$20.”
According to our sources, marijuana is the most popular drug with teens in DB, “there’s heaps around”, but harder substances, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, are also easy to come by for those who want them.
Factoring in peer pressure
Young people have always experimented and pushed boundaries out of pure curiosity and it is human nature to want to try something for yourself after hearing about it from your peers, or even reading about it in the tabloids. Nowadays, however, kids often don’t get the chance to try things in their own time, with peer pressure playing a huge part in growing up.
“As a society we have changed and it has become the norm to start drinking at an early age, so people try to stay with the trend,” reveals one 17-yearold, Discovery Bay-based student interviewed. “They don’t want to feel left out. At first it starts with only a certain few, but as you get older it ends up being a lot of kids. By Year 13, it becomes normal.”
James echoes these thoughts: “Peer pressure is a huge factor, as well as seeing older brothers, sisters and friends doing it. Young teens think it’s cool, and they want to do it too.’”
Is DB the problem?
It’s obvious that DB is as good a place as any for kids to get drunk, experiment with drugs, and go under the radar all at the same time. “Parents are not always supervising their children,” Sophie says. “Some parents are happy to just give them money and let them go out freely. For some kids, the parents are out and helpers don’t monitor where they are.
There is a lot of freedom for children here in DB because it is said to be a safe place.” In addition to Tai Pak Wan, popular haunts for teens to indulge in illicit pastimes are reportedly Sam Pak Wan and certain out-of-the-way spots in DB North Plaza.
There is also the consideration that the notorious DB lifestyle might be backfiring. “An issue some children have is that they see their parents drink and don’t understand why they can’t do it,” Sophie says.
It’s also oft-repeated that DB teens simply don’t have enough to do – that there are insufficient social activities on offer – and that boredom leads to early experimentation with drugs and alcohol. This factor is negated, however, by our teen source. “I think kids would do it regardless of what else is on offer in DB,” she says.
Either way, priorities seem to be out of whack. As James points out: “If the security guards see a teen skating in DB Plaza, they will stop him straightaway, but if they see a 16-year-old walking with a beer they probably wouldn’t say anything.”
Advice for parents
If you accept that, one way or another, teenagers will experiment with drinking if they want to, what is the best way to handle the situation? This issue is much debated among DB parents and methods employed range from allowing teens a glass or two of wine at dinner, to boycotting booze altogether.
“Today kids are well educated, schools have taught them about drugs and alcohol, but some of them will do it to have their own experience,” Sophie says. “I believe parents should communicate as much as they can with their children. They have to know what is going on outside and with good communication, kids are fine.”
While a lot of the time experimenting with drugs and alcohol is just that, experimenting, DB has seen cases where teens’ habits have escalated into abuse. “It’s not been such a problem with drinking, to my knowledge,” our teen source reveals, “but there are drug tests and students do get caught and expelled.”
The teen believes that the majority of her peers who dabble in this sort of thing do not suffer from the effects in their everyday lives. Sophie backs this up, saying: “All the kids I see with alcohol or drug issues are trying to cover more serious issues. Some kids will come to school drunk but they have serious issues with their parents or society. They are a very small minority.”
Not that this helps parents sitting at home wondering where their children might be and what they might be doing. A DB father of three, interviewed, believes that monitoring what teenagers do is near impossible, and that education really is the key.
“All we can do as parents, obviously with the help of schools, is provide our kids with as much information as possible and hope they can work it out for themselves,” he says. “As far as drinking and experimenting with marijuana goes, a lot of the time it’s a relatively safe practice. It’s a different story when it comes to kids dropping an unknown pill into their mouths, hoping it’s clean Ecstasy or something of the like. Once they know about the dangers, we just have to hope they are smart enough to connect the dots.”
Our thanks go to the DB teens who, with their parents’ permission, agreed to re-enact the drinking scenes used to illustrate this article. Families seeking advice can contact Sophie Garderet of Brief Therapy HK at [email protected].