Teresa Soper, the Christchurch mother dubbed ‘Momma Doof’, has been charged in connection with underage parties she organised at her semi-rural property. She tells Luke Oldfield why she did it.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on cradletogravy.co.nz.
Carefree teenagers vs censorious adults is a battle as old as time, but a recent spate of skirmishes has put it back in the news. In both Hamilton and Rotorua a few dozen students are facing sanctions for liberating themselves of clothing in the annual silliness that comes with ending 13 years of formal schooling, while pupils at Auckland’s Rangitoto College have just been advised of a total ban on makeup. And further south, in Christchurch, police broke up a supervised teenage gathering – in full riot gear.
“It had barely started,” says Teresa Soper, still incredulous that more than a dozen police officers arrived at her Bishopdale property unannounced to break up the party. She says she had a cordial relationship with law enforcement until that point and that discussions with police had led her to believe she’d be legally compliant provided a few “slight adjustments” were made. The worst part? “Well, we missed the chance to make some charities a bit of money” – she’d been consulting local kaumātua about the best use of any excess funds collected through the sale of tickets.
Last week, police charged Soper with allowing an unlicensed premises to be used for the consumption of alcohol. Affectionately known as ‘Momma Doof’, Soper had been organising parties for teenagers to congregate under watchful adult supervision. Her motivation was simple: she was petrified about her daughter sneaking out her bedroom window at night and taking up with the wrong sort of company. Soper tells me that, after a bit of trial and error over the two years the parties ran, her crew managed to formulate some fairly common sense rules: no hard liquor, no weapons (both enforced through bag checks), no fighting, and leave when asked.
Soper says she charged a small admission fee to cover the costs of “security”, referring to what she called her ‘Guardians of the Doof’, a dozen adults dressed in fluoro identifiers, charged with 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 young women, and a makeshift urinal for the lads. Her parties weren’t simply good old fashioned Kiwi piss-ups either. Held in a funky barn space, complete with BBQ area and a raised DJ booth, they were designed to keep teenagers of all kinds entertained.
The parties took place far enough away from the outer Christchurch suburbs that the music could be blasted without disturbing residents. The attendees came from all walks of life too – Soper rattles off the professions of a number of parents whose private-school kids were regular at the parties, dropped at the front gate by a (probably grateful) mum or dad.
The parties were also used to raise awareness about the consequences of alcohol abuse and Class A drugs, she says. Soper didn’t supply alcohol herself (she told Stuff that she estimated around 60% of attendees didn’t drink at all) and anyone found to be possession of drugs were asked to leave. During our conversation she tells me some heart-wrenching stories about her daughter, experiences that add context to her proactive approach to the issue of alcohol use and abuse. Soper says she’s happy to leave the discussions about 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 who just wanted to ensure her daughter was keeping good company. Without Soper, it is fair to say a few hundred Christchurch teenagers each weekend would have been left muddling through the weekend largely on their own, and with no adult supervision.
That didn’t stop the pile-on once she was charged in court. Stuff columnist Mary-Ann Scott opined that Soper wouldn’t be the ‘cool mum’ for long and asked if she had considered the prospect of one of the 400 attendees brandishing a knife. Perhaps Scott believes that knives are confined to bush doofs, handed out in goody bags at the entrance? She hasn’t 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 alcohol for that matter) are ubiquitous in New Zealand; at least Soper made some arrangements to deal with anti-social behavior. The 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 zero violent incidents in two years of events makes an interesting contrast to outcomes elsewhere across New Zealand.
On Newstalk ZB, Heidi Boulger of parenting website Kidspot also seized the opportunity to offer up her own parenting wisdom. “It’s illegal” and “they’re underage teens” were the reasons Boulger gave for opposing the parties; left unanswered was the legal question of whether the barn constitutes public or private property, apparently one of the determining factors in whether Soper was within the law.
Among all the hand wringing, it seems to have been forgotten that the teenagers of today are the grandchildren of the Sweetwaters generation, whose own lives seemed to pan out alright after a few years of questionable behaviour. So spare us the attempts to drum up a moral panic about people like Soper who dare to approach the issue of teenage drinking with some degree of pragmatism.
I’d argue that Teresa Soper should be in the running for New Zealander of the Year. Instead she’s facing court for choosing harm minimisation over our country’s hypocritical, draconian and entirely futile attitudes toward liquor consumption.
Perhaps it’s Soper’s own daughter Libby who sums it up best. “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,” she says. “I don’t need to – I’ve got a cool mum.”
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