Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Life's a ball in youth

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For all the badly behaving kids, there are many more who have a great time at school balls. Photo / APN
For all the badly behaving kids, there are many more who have a great time at school balls. Photo / APN

School balls weren't a big deal in my day. We probably thought they were, we sixth-form girls at Sacred Heart Girls' College.

The ball was held in the school hall and I think we got a half-day off on Friday to get ready. Getting ready didn't involve much - the hairdresser for some, then getting together at one girl's house to put on our make-up and home-made dresses.

Impossible as it may seem to the young women of today, GHD hair-straighteners hadn't been invented. Nor had the concept of going to a make-up artist to get glammed up.

The ball itself was more of a social - the boys from St John's and St Paul's, and the girls from Sacred Heart, shuffled round the hall to Spandau Ballet under the watchful eyes of the nuns.

Couples tried desperately to press themselves up against each other when they reached the darkened corners of the hall. Well, those who had boyfriends did.

I think I only had about three dances when my street cred was utterly destroyed and I became the laughing stock of the seniors. I told one hapless lad, who'd finally got me up on the dance floor, that his car keys were sticking into me. He replied that he hadn't driven.

These days, school balls are probably more akin to the debutante balls of the 1950s and 60s. No expense is spared.

The boys at Frank Casey work overtime kitting out young men in suits; Modes is full of young lovelies exposing acres of firm young flesh; you can't get an appointment at the hairdresser for love nor money and chinchillas are slaughtered in their thousands to create the false eyelashes that transform a schoolgirl into a siren.

It's a big deal - but because of the problems associated with the drinking and drug-taking that goes on among a minority of students, some schools are looking for alternatives to the annual school ball.

King's College is one of them, after the death of one of their students in the wake of their ball - and I can understand their sensitivity. They must be seen to be doing something - a favourite phrase on talkback - and so they are. But for all the badly behaving kids making headlines, there are many more who have the best night of their young lives.

I think it's a load of expensive, overwrought tosh now, but I didn't think so when my daughter was doing the ball scene. I loved seeing her looking so gorgeous and having so much fun with her friends, and my mates who had sons couldn't believe their monosyllabic, lank-haired teens could transform into sophisticated, sparkling conversationalists. Clothes really do maketh the man.

If schools can find an alternative to the balls, and be able to do away with the problems associated with the afterballs, good for them. But in the meantime, we're probably being a little too tough on the kids.

What are we worried about? That kids are drinking underage? That they're at it like rabbits? That some kids have too much money and some kids not enough? That a new, liberal, anything-goes attitude means parents are abrogating their responsibilities?

Read the Mazengarb Report, that resulted from a 1954 ministerial inquiry into the moral delinquency of Kiwi adolescents. Are the kids of today any different?

- Herald on Sunday

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