Why drug overdose kids deserve a second chance
WHAT have Richard Branson, Albert Einstein and Paul Newman got in common?
Aside from all being ridiculously successful in their chosen field, all three are said to have struggled badly at school as teenage boys.
Biographies of Branson claim the billionaire was threatened with expulsion from boarding school as a result of nocturnal visits to the bedroom of his headmaster's daughter. Although he survived the threatened expulsion, he ultimately left high school at the age of 16.
Einstein's high school teachers complained about his "rebellious" attitude and he too is believed to have been kicked out at 16 years old.
And Hollywood legend Paul Newman was reputedly expelled from Ohio University for rolling a beer keg into the university president's car.
Last week seven teenage boys from the Gold Coast parted ways with their school in the wake of a highly distressing episode which saw them rushed to hospital after taking a drug known as phenibut.
Their departure from Saint Stephen's College in Upper Coomera was inevitable given what occurred. The school cannot be faulted for its response to what was a very serious incident.
But the boys involved must know that, however low they may now be feeling, they can learn from their mistake and forge brilliant futures.
The truth is, there is nothing new about teenage boys doing foolish things. We've all been there in some shape or form. To all the people who say of the Saint Stephen's seven, "how could they be so stupid?", I say, recall your own biggest mistake as a teenager and ask yourself the same question.
While the activities of the seven former pupils of Saint Stephen's were clearly wrong, they were entirely consistent with the typical teenage tropes of rebellion, risk taking and following the herd.
It is hard for adults to imagine why anyone would care to poison themselves with illicit drugs. The warnings are strong and persistent. But in the modern world the tide of information towards young people flows most strongly from their peers online.
It leads them into perplexing actions. How else to explain the latest "trending" craze, the so-called "tide pod challenge", which astonishingly, involves biting into a detergent tablet for the amusement of other young people. Thousands of teens have been filmed doing it, despite the very obvious hazard.
Many adults are little better, discarding the advice of highly educated doctors in favour of self-appointed online "experts" offering alternative therapies. Grown adults have, among other things, been converted to the supposed benefits of drinking your own urine ("an ancient, all-natural method that can sustain a person's health") and gemstone therapy ("based on the principle that vibrations produced from the gem have healing properties").
At worst, some people have rejected conventional cancer treatment based on the advice they find online, while tens of thousands continue to deny their children vital vaccinations due to web-based quackery.
So what might the former Saint Stephen's boys have read about phenibut?
Google the word and you will quickly find an array of content, not from the dark web, but hosted on mainstream sites such as Facebook and YouTube.
The videos hosted by the latter site, while often careful to include warnings about safe dosage, do not make the drug sound especially dangerous.
Titles include 'Using Phenibut for Social Anxiety and Better Communication', 'Official Phenibut Review - Profound De-Stressor' and '8 Ways Phenibut Can Improve Your Mood and Help Your Life'.
It is easy to see why teenagers struggling in the ever-awkward space between childhood and adulthood might be attracted by these messages.
The fact that they are hosted on mainstream websites backed by the advertising dollars of blue-chip Australian brands would doubtless add to their validity in impressionable young minds.
We should be outraged that the giants of Silicon Valley do not do more to regulate such dubious content, despite the windfall profits they enjoy.
None of this is to excuse the actions of the seven students involved in the incident at Saint Stephen's College. But the boys have been dealt a tough lesson and suffered punishment enough. The condemnation of keyboard warriors who cheered their departure from the school was cruel and unthinking - there is nothing to be gained from kicking these boys and their families when they are already down.
Instead, now is a time for compassion, understanding and encouragement.
Many people make mistakes as teenagers they later bitterly regret. But as Branson, Einstein and Newman and millions less well known people prove, struggles at this stage of life are not a strong predictor of future success.
WORD OF THE WEEK: MANTERRUPTION
A term coined to describe what happens when a man interrupts a woman while she is speaking. The word was highlighted by Qantas this week, who followed Commonwealth Games organisers down the PC rabbit hole by issuing advice to staff which also recommended against the use of supposedly offensive terms like mum and dad, husband and wife. This column reckons passengers on long haul flights should consider screaming "manterruption" the next time their movie is interrupted by a pointless announcement from male staff on the flight deck.