Fellow parents, I bring grim tidings from the frontlines of teenage sexuality – it is as bad as you feared. My daughter has been going to the odd teen disco for some years now. First there were the local GAA club discos, sweaty awkward affairs that were mostly for the 12-14 bracket. There was no great debate between us about whether or not she should be allowed go to these – it’s the GAA, sher they wouldn’t know fornication if it slapped them with a hurl. After a year or so of those, she outgrew them, and the next step was a sizeable one – to a ultra-glam club night in the dogtrack, with DJs, spot prizes, PAs by Love Island contestants and more fake tan than a bodybuilding convention. This event was also very well run, with security so tight it seemed like it was designed by a terrified parent. So off our firstborn tottered on six inch heels, but soon she tired of these too. Then she expressed the desire to go to the teenage club night in one of the city centre venues – and this is the point where my culchie roots come to the fore. The city crowd, they’re different you see. Brazen. Wild. It’s the bright lights and high speed broadband, it corrupts them. So when your child asks to go to a city centre teen disco, she might as well be asking if she can go on a week-long bender in Ibiza. You try to be progressive, to be the cool, liberal parent you wanted so much when you were a teenager, but every fibre of your being says ‘this is a terrible idea and you know it’. But she tells you that everyone is going, literally everyone in the whole town is allowed go, even that girl who is homeschooled. So you give in, as we did. And you realise that you were, in fact, right.
One of the girls in the group was unwell. It wasn’t booze, but she ended up in a holding pen that was obviously a holding tank for the trainee dipsomaniacs. Her dad came to get her, and it was from him that we got most of the information about what goes on in these places. Firstly, I would take him at his word, because unlike us, he is from the city, so he knows brazen wildness when he sees it. On entering the venue’s main room he encountered what he described as ‘a mass orgy’, including one couple who he believed were having actual sex. He said he knew what he was describing sounded unbelievable, and he was half tempted to take out his phone and get some video, but then do you really want to be the fortysomething dad caught in an underage disco filming fornicating teens, screaming ‘but I need it to show Joe Duffy’ as you’re dragged from the venue? No, you do not. After that he went to find the drunk tank, passing toilets that, despite clear gender demarcation, were populated with screaming teens of both genders. He found a bouncer on his trek, and asked him how he put up with the mayhem. He said he normally refuses to work those shifts, preferring the ordinary drunken mayhem of your average Saturday night, but got called in last minute. He said all this with the look of someone who was about to cry, shaking his head at the decline of human civilization he was witnessing, a Hieronymus Bosch nightmare set in Tellytubby land. All is lost, all is lost.
Eventually the man found his daughter, and much in the style of the film Taken, had to shove his way out of there with her lolling in his arms, living to tell the tale of the horror of what he had seen: Teenage sexuality, out of control. When he was telling me about the experience, he had the dead-eyed gaze of a Vietnam vet, and he just kept repeating ‘it wasn’t like that in our day’.
Of course, my daughter’s version of events was rather different. First we asked the awkward questions – were you drinking and if so how much did you have. She said three quarters of a naggin, which in reality means anything from a full bottle of vodka to four million litres of pure alcohol. But when we asked about what the place was like, she did have the good sense to admit that it was rough. ‘I have never seen so much vomit’ was her TripAdvisor-style summary of the venue. As for the frottage, fornication and general grubbiness of the night, she saw nothing. All I could do was try to encourage her to never go to that place – or anywhere like it – again, explaining that there will always be nightclubs that are rough, where people get plastered, and get sick, and get unpleasantly physical. It’s hard to try and explain this to her – that she is taking her first steps on a long journey, the same one we all embark on around that age, and that some people break into a run long before they should, and end up stumbling into situations that, as minors, they should not be in. But all this is a tale as old as time – boundaries being tested, naggins being consumed, and tidal pools of vomit sluicing around the floor of the bus home. Truly, it was the same in our day.