Parents of Reading and Leeds festival-goers, like me, will be tearing their hair out this weekend

Right now my son is negotiating a field full of 90,000 teenagers, many of whom (in my fevered imagination) could be bearing down on him with fistfuls of drugs

Rosie Millard
Friday 26 August 2016 12:15 BST
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Reading and Leeds festivals are a rite of post GCSE passage for most young people
Reading and Leeds festivals are a rite of post GCSE passage for most young people (Markus Thorsen)

This might be how it goes: stretching in the morning light, my 16 year old son gazes over a plethora of festival goers rolling up their sleeping bags, laughingly chatting over hot coffee in anticipation of the day ahead. Another version goes thus: unzipping his tent at Reading Festival, my son wonders nervously where his phone, wallet and indeed shoes are. Was he even in his own tent? Or, even worse: my son wanders around a huge field, dazed, lost, trying to find his tent. Welcome to the inside of my head at the moment.

This weekend there are around 90,000 16 year olds, including my son, in a Berkshire field attending Reading, the world’s oldest pop festival. About the same amount are at Leeds Festival, which shares the same bill. The audience is all the same age; they have all just had their GCSE results. Nobody past Year 11 bothers with Reading or Leeds. Hence, it’s fair to say they are all ready to party. In fact, before he left, I nearly grounded my son for posting a silly item on social media implying that he might be venturing near an off license before the festival, and would anyone like to join him.

My older daughter (a Reading veteran) says Reading and Leeds are a rite of post GCSE-passage and he has got to go, and I am ridiculous to worry, and that more people die annually in bubble baths than at Reading or any other festival. This does little to calm me. Here we have a febrile body of young people, numbering nearly the entire population of Hull, in a position which looks, at least from the viewpoint of casa Millard, totally unsupervised. Are there any parents at Reading, or at Leeds? Are you bonkers? At least at Glastonbury or Latitude there are a fair amount of boho oldies going to poetry readings. At Reading? Forget it.

I’m sure my daughter is correct. But for me, and tens of thousands of others across the country, this weekend could seem very long. The trouble is not the young people, who have paid £200 each for the privilege of witnessing the likes of Die Antwoord, Strange Bones and, er, Owen Jones "in conversation". The trouble is us.

My son, and I suspect he is typical, has been so surrounded, so cocooned, so sheltered throughout his 16 years of life that I seriously doubt whether he has ever had to even unroll a sleeping bag, let alone put up a tent before now. And no, I don’t count doing a bit of camping at Scouts (yes) or D of E (no) as relevant, since both of those laudable activities are highly patrolled by qualified adults and neither are comparable with negotiating a field full of 90,000 teenagers, many of whom (in my fevered imagination) could be bearing down on him with fistfuls of drugs. Drugs. The fear that while standing beside the Festival Republic Stage, he might be a) offered some chemical and b) accept it, means that over the last six months I have metamorphosed into an Islingtonian version of the neurotic and overprotective mother in Almost Famous, memorably played by Frances McDormand. We have had "quiet drug chats", we have had loud drug chats. We have had drug texting chats. I actually waved him off running after him shouting “Don’t take drugs! Refuse anything which might look like a drug!”

It is also the fault of my parenting partners in crime, digital media, online banking and the sharing economy which the modern day parent or carer can roll up to create a simulacrum of a virtual parent, following and escorting your child all day and all night. One minute late from school? Give him or her a ring. Not back at midnight on Saturday? Text him. What’s App him. Organise an Uber to collect him from that party miles away. Arrange your bank card to automatically top-up his Oyster so he can always get home safely, thank God for the new 24-hour Tube.

Did I grow up like this? Are you kidding? While checking my phone for the umpteenth time to see if my anxious-but-needy WA messages had been answered, I recalled that when I was 15 I went off hitchhiking around Mull with my sister, 19. We got picked up by some young men. They took us water skiing. In a loch! I would have had fifty fits about this had any of my children done it. When we relayed the adventure to my parents, it was barely remarked upon.

What is the answer? One can hardly uninvent texting, or social media. Or drugs, for that matter. Trust your child. Of course. But also relearn to relax, put the internet back in its place, and have a selfish and indulgent, device-light Bank Holiday. At the time of writing, by the way, I have had one single response from my child following anxious inquiries. “I’m fine.”

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