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.
01 0635 0235145 00
Put ‘lovedoof’ in the particulars.