Teenage Parties? Leave it to the Woodstock generation, and their obvious infallibility

An edited version of this story was republished by The Spinoff on November 8th, 2017.

I spent an hour chatting with the woman dubbed ‘Momma Doof’, who defied conventional parenting ‘best-practice’ by somehow remembering what it’s like to actually be a teenager.

As we draw toward the end of 2017, the thick nub of New Zealand’s self righteous nanny state has re-emerged from its winter slumber, casting shame on those acting haphazardly at that explicably reasoned age of 16, or thereabouts. In both Hamilton & Rotorua, a few dozen students are now facing sanctions for liberating themselves of clothing in the annual silliness that comes with ending 13 years of formal schooling. Meanwhile, students at Rangitoto College were advised that ‘adulting’ would be banned via the prohibition of makeup, and further south, police have shown their willingness to break up innocuous gatherings of teenagers – with full riot gear.

“It had barely started” says Teresa Soper, still incredulous that more than a dozen mostly boyish looking police officers arrived at her property unannounced, despite what she says had been a cordial relationship with law enforcement up till that point. Soper rattles off her various meetings with police leading her to believe she’d be legally compliant provided a few ‘slight adjustments’ were made. So, what cuts her the deepest? “Well, we missed the chance to make some charities a bit of money”, laments Soper who had been consulting local kaumatua about the best use of any excess funds she’d collected through the sale of tickets.

Last week, police charged Soper with providing a space where minors consumed alcohol. Affectionately known as ‘Momma Doof’, for the past couple of years she had been organising parties for teenagers to congregate, under the watchful eye of adult supervision. Her motivation was simple; she was petrified about her daughter sneaking out the bedroom window at night and acquiring the wrong sort of company. Soper tells me that after a bit of ‘trial and error’ her crew managed to formulate some fairly common sense rules; including no hard liquor, no weapons (both enforced through bag checks), no fighting and to leave when asked.

“We charged a small admission fee to cover the costs of security” advises Soper, referring to what she called her ‘Guardians of the Doof’. These guardians were a dozen adults dressed in fluoro identifiers, enforcing the rules and ensuring the safety of patrons. She’d also included a ‘time out’ space for teenagers that had had too much to drink, a ‘safe space’ for female teens, and a makeshift urinal for the lads. It wasn’t just a good ole’ fashioned ‘kiwi-as’ piss ups either, Soper had a hospitable, funky barn space kitted out with a BBQ area and its own raised DJ booth, aiming to keep teenagers of all walks sufficiently entertained.

Soper accomplished this in a setting nestled far enough away from the suburbs that the music could be blasted without it inconveniencing any of those more ‘civilised’ types, you know, the teenagers’ parents. And she isn’t shy to rattle off the professions of a few rather distinguished persons whose private school kids were often being dropped at the party’s front gate by their (probably grateful) parents.

“The parties were also used to raise awareness about the consequences of alcohol abuse and Class A drugs.” explains Soper, keen to point out that the purpose of these events is much deeper than whose kids it was that were in attendance. She doesn’t supply any of the liquor herself and confirmed that teenagers found to be possession of drugs were asked to leave. Soper also relayed a few heart-wrenching stories while we chatted on the phone, personal events in the life of her daughter that gave some context to her decision to pursue a more engaging approach. Soper claims she’s happy to leave the deconstruction of New Zealand’s teen drinking culture to the experts; what matters to her most is how she can manage their drinking in a safer way.

That’s not a bad effort from a mum that just wanted to ensure her daughter was keeping good company. Without Soper, it is fair to say a few hundred Christchurch teenagers each weekend have been left muddling through the weekend largely of their own accord.

That didn’t stop a ferocious mob from the concerned mothers league joining the pile on though. Fairfax contributor Mary-Ann Scott opined that Soper wouldn’t be the ‘cool mum’ for long and asked if she had considered the prospect of 1 of the 400 attendees brandishing a knife. Perhaps Scott believes that knives are confined to bush doofs, perhaps handed out in goody bags at the entrance? She hasn’t quite explained why it would be better for the hypothetical knife-wielder to be among the same kids, only with no adult supervision or first aid available.

Knives (and liquor for that matter) are ubiquitous in New Zealand and at least Soper made some arrangements to deal with such anti social behaviors. Not to mention that our Government has listed “reducing the social destruction caused by alcohol” as one of their four national priorities to reduce crime. If evidence-based policy wasn’t so much less appealing than knee jerk responses, we might be asking Soper’s advice instead of charging her; as it stands, her record of 0 violent incidents in 2 years of events makes an interesting contrast to outcomes elsewhere across New Zealand.

Not to be outdone, Kidspot Managing Director Heidi Boulger then seized the opportunity to offer up her own wisdom to Chris Lynch on Newstalk ZB. It appears “motherhood” and “online entrepreneur” are now clearly sufficient qualifications to meet Newstalk’s stringent editorial standards for “credible public health expert”. Boulger offered up pearls such as “‘it’s illegal” and “they’re underage teens”, leaving no doubt she is capable of summarising most of the relevant facts; missing only the legal nuance of whether the barn constitutes public or private property, which appears to be a one of the determining factors in whether Soper was within the law. “I don’t think it’s a good idea” Boulger then states, after being presented nothing short of generous wind direction by Mr Lynch.

Notably, neither member of the peanut gallery managed to support their opinions with evidence or actual research, opting instead for a drive-by slight at a mother who had the temerity to take a more progressive stance toward teenage social deviance. Scott or Boulger probably don’t even care about Soper’s parties, they’re just enjoying the publicity that a bit of virtue signalling in the media has delivered for them.

Among the hand flapping of a few high school principals, pushed into the public sphere by a media that has long realised the cost advantages of sensationalism over journalism, it has almost been forgotten that the teenagers of today are literally the grandchildren of the original Woodstock generation (err, the music festival not the shitty bourbon) whose lives seemed to pan out alright after a few years of questionable behavior. And through a heavy dose of moral panic offered up by our 4th estate, the condemnation has widened beyond those too young to remember where they were when commercial aeroplanes slammed into New York office buildings and onto people like Soper, who have dared provide an element of pragmatism when marshalling such unenlightened beings as today’s youth.

So, shouldn’t Teresa Soper, despite any faults, be in the running for New Zealander of the Year? Instead, she’ll be facing court for choosing evidence-based harm minimisation instead of our country’s hypocritical, draconian and entirely futile attitudes toward liquor consumption. It’s a culture that’s not only inextricably linked to the plaid shirt, rugby mad, hyper masculine characterisation of New Zealand men but also the dearth of stringent regulations and social programs to ensure Kiwi teens are not socialised into a life of alcoholism in the first place.

Perhaps it’s Soper’s own daughter that sums it up best when she took issue with the criticisms levelled at her mother; “I’ve never needed to sneak out of home to be with my friends and I’ve never been in a car with a drunk driver” states Libby. “I don’t need to – I’ve got a cool mum.”

TL;DR  Progressive thinking in New Zealand can lead to you being charged for not falling within the parameters of established social norms, because you know, there’s surely only one way to raise children.

P.S  If you’re passionate about this topic and would like to make a donation toward Teresa Soper’s legal defense than no amount is too small.

Teresa Soper

ANZ

01 0635 0235145 00

Put ‘lovedoof’ in the particulars.

 

Triclosan: Just another chemical (get the f*** over it)

Rachel Southee

You’ve probably already heard the one about New Zealand Member of Parliament Jacqui Dean asking a Government Minister to ban Dihydrogen Oxide. It wasn’t her finest hour, but she’s not the only MP around the world to fall victim to a hoax illuminating their lack of scientific literacy.

Meanwhile, acetic acid (vinegar), sodium chloride (salt), ethanol (alcohol), and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) are just a few of the other ‘scary’ sounding chemicals that are probably safely stored away in your kitchen cupboard.

Which is hopefully a timely reminder to all and sundry: Everything is a f****** chemical.

Last week that pinnacle of highbrow journalism Fairfax media, published an article with the bombastic headline “Chemical in Colgate Total possible hormone disrupter and carcinogenic”. A similarly titled piece “Ingredient in Colgate Total should not be sold over the counter, says chemistry expert” then appeared in that other almost – nearly Pulitzer Prize winning rag nzherald.co.nz. In brief, both pieces suggested the public be weary of a toothpaste branded ‘Colgate Total’, this had come amid fears that the presence of a chemical called triclosan was s o m e t h i n g something and banned by the FDA.

Commercial media outlets seem to take great pride exhibiting willful ignorance in matters of high school level chemistry, all the while skipping through the opinions of those persons suitably qualified to temper down such alarmist rhetoric. At least by quoting Dr Michelle Dickinson, the Herald had made a half assed attempt at moderating their click bait headline with a little critical perspective.

But if I am not already appalled enough by the quality of such online content, I just need to scroll to the bottom of a story and read the comments made by a hysterical public. For it is now that I can fully appreciate how gullible our society has become. The knowledge gaps in science communication are only exacerbated by the likes of Dr Libby and Dr Oz whose assumed authority as medical experts can and should be viewed with a fair degree of skepticism.

Our collective scientific literacy has become so god damn awful I expect a sideways look just asking my neighbour how much sucrose she’d like in her tea.

So, for the sake of balance.

Triclosan, is an antibacterial ingredient that has been used in countless products, and has been for some two decades. Now, time alone does not automatically make something safe, but it does lend to the possibility that a product has been thoroughly tested. And as it turns out, Colgate Total is one of the most thoroughly researched toothpastes in the world.

The Cochrane Systematic Review of Triclosan in toothpaste, which can be found here, said the following regarding its efficacy:

“The evidence produced shows benefits in using a triclosan/copolymer fluoride toothpaste when compared with a fluoride toothpaste (without triclosan/copolymer). There was a 22% reduction in plaque, a 22% reduction in gingivitis, a 48% reduction in bleeding gums…”  

For the unwashed, Cochrane systematic reviews are the gold standard. They are ‘meta’ or let’s say ‘mega’ reviews, in this case the Cochrane researchers independently pooled 30 peer reviewed papers.  They also assessed the evidence pertaining to harmfulness, and this was their conclusion:

“There was no evidence of any harmful effects associated with the use of triclosan/copolymer toothpastes in studies up to three years in length.”  

Still want to ‘do your own research?’, you could seek out the Material Safety Data Sheet. This is where you can find the relationship between a chemical and its toxicity. Like many chemicals, Triclosan in HIGH concentrations can be very harmful, and there is still ongoing research into whether or not there is a link between its use in smaller concentrations of Triclosan and hormone disruption in children.

The worthwhile takeaway point in all this is that the amount of Triclosan in Colgate toothpaste is 0.3%, sufficiently low for the FDA to not ban it on the basis of the best research available.

So actions taken by the FDA regarding Triclosan can be summarised as follows:

  • There was a negligible ‘benefit to risk’ ratio for Triclosan present in hand soap, but a strong ‘benefit to risk’ ratio in toothpaste.
  • As there was little proven consequential benefit in hand soap, with some degree of harm to the environment – the FDA withdrew its approval of Triclosan and other antibacterial compounds from their use in hand soap.
  • As there was measurable benefits to humans and still no evidence of harm, the FDA approved the ongoing use of toothpaste such as Colgate Total.

Having now disposed of the premise that led to much of the nonsense regarding Triclosan, there is one aspect of the original story which had some real merit; aquatic life will likely respond differently to particular concentrations than what the human body does. And if our wastewater treatment plants do not process out the Triclosan prior to discharge, then such minute concentrations could still be harmful to aquatic life.

Unfortunately, wastewater treatment plants are not designed to entirely remove such trace elements – but this is not an issue that is unique to Triclosan, it is just that the media generally ignore the already well established waste issues that are responsible for destroying our freshwater ecosystems *cough* intensive farming practices *cough*.

Science is subject to change, that’s how it works.  The evidence for or against Triclosan could one day shift, but it is important that proactive choices by scientists to investigate something further (as is what’s happening with Triclosan) are not confused with a presumption of harm.

The kerfuffle regarding Triclosan only strengthens my view that we need more funding for science communication (as well as more funding for actual research). And maybe some of those funds could be used to ensure that journalists get a crash course in year 11 chemistry.

But that’s probably just a pipe dream.

Perhaps i’ll just email Jacqui Dean, she ended up making it into Government and is now Minister for Consumer Affairs.

TL;DR?  Not eating toothpaste has always been a good idea, along with consulting your dentist for the oral heath advice that is best suited to your personal requirements.

Rachel Southee has a BEng (1st Class Honors) from the University of Waikato.