MELISSA Reid turns 20 today.
Had she been at home in Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, she would likely be waking to presents, a quiet celebration with family to be followed by a not so quiet night out with pals. Instead, she will spend the day in a police holding cell in Peru contemplating the possibility of a prison sentence for alleged drug smuggling.
Ms Reid has become that dreaded thing: a cautionary tale. Her story began, as these things do, in familiar fashion. The worst nightmares often begin in the most ordinary ways.
The former call centre worker went on holiday to Ibiza in June. Various versions are available of what happened next. What can be said with certainty is that an investigation is under way and court proceedings are expected to begin shortly.
In media interviews, Ms Reid and her co-accused, Michaella McCollum Connolly, a 20-year-old from Northern Ireland, have claimed that they were held captive in Spain, forced to travel to Peru, and forced, at gunpoint, into allegedly attempting to smuggle 11kg of cocaine, with a street value of £1.5m, out of the country.
However this particular case turns out, it might have been thought in general that seeing photos and footage of frightened westerners far from home was largely a thing of the past, something which belonged, like Midnight Express, in the 1970s. In more recent times there was the case of Sandra Gregory in Thailand in 1993. She admitted the charge of drug smuggling and was sentenced to death. That was commuted to 25 years and she was granted a pardon by the King of Thailand in 2000. Today, Ms Gregory, whose parents were from Aberdeenshire, tours schools to tell her story as a warning to others.
With so much publicity surrounding cases down the years, one might think it would only be the truly desperate of the developing world who would get within 100 miles of villains only too willing to exploit a "mule" to line their own pockets. Young people are so much smarter now, are they not?
Not in the experience of Colonel Tito Perez, the head of the anti-drugs unit's investigations branch in Peru. He told a British newspaper that there were 30 suspected drugs mules in detention. Of these, almost half are foreigners. An unnamed police officer in Ibiza had his own warning: "Most middle-class British parents sitting at home would not like to know what their children get up to here." One of the lessons from the current case in Peru is that they had better learn, and fast. It remains a risky world out there. How does any parent or guardian drive that message home while encouraging youngsters to get the most out of life and the opportunities that come their way?
Before last Sunday, when the Peru story broke, most parents who had waved youngsters off on their first foreign holidays alone probably had a set list of nightmare scenarios that had been running on a loop in their head since the great adventure was announced. Hope they don't get drunk, hope their money is not stolen, hope their friends look out for them. All the usual bargains with fate. In the vast majority of cases, the holidays pass without incident, with the worst thing that happens being the appearance of an unfortunate tattoo, or embarrassing photos being posted on Facebook. These families only have a fortnight to fret. The parents of gap year travellers - who now number in the millions - have it worse, for longer.
Before there were gap years it was the done thing to become au pairs or travel by train in Europe (these were the days, natch, before student loans and sky-high youth unemployment). As families became better off, it was not just the wealthy of old who could afford to send their children on grand tours. The tours might not be so grand today, they might be a week on the Costa Brava rather than a summer in Italy, but the intention is roughly the same: to broaden horizons, to encourage independence, to have fun before all the cares of adult life descended like storm clouds.
Noble thoughts, and they are just as much needed today. There is no going back to an era of locking up sons and daughters. What we can ask, though, is whether youngsters are being sent out into the world properly prepared for what they might find there - young women especially.
We are of course fortunate to have such concerns. In some parts of the world parents worry not about foreign holidays but whether their babies will survive to become toddlers. The generation currently out there on gap years and holidays with pals are a breed apart in other ways. The average teenager from a good, caring home these days is likely healthier, wealthier and better educated than their counterparts from decades gone by. Where previous generations might have felt dwarfed by lack of opportunities, the iPhone crowd are the new Amazons and wannabe alpha males. Anything is possible, they have been told, so act accordingly. Work hard at school, stay out of trouble, and yours is the Earth and everything that's in it. With such confidence and faith do they venture forth.
They are among the most privileged of youngsters, yet in some senses rarely has a generation been so ill-prepared to face what is potentially out there. Lifted and carried from one activity to the next from an early age, they grow up thinking that the world is a relatively safe place full of ostensibly well-meaning people. Of course they've seen crime dramas on the television and the movies, they've read the horror stories on the internet, they would know a creep if they met one. But would they? And would they know what to do about it?
It is only right that children are brought up to be polite, considerate, to treat others as they would wish to be treated themselves. Yet sometimes one fears, particularly with girls, that this goes too far. They are so conditioned to be nice, to be quiet, to please others, that when a wrong 'un does come along they hesitate to tell them where to go. They don't want to be seen to be making a fuss, to risk a scene, or the wrath of others. But far better that than other possible outcomes.
It takes confidence to stand up for oneself when needs must. Outside of the deeds to an oil well, instilling that confidence could be the most valuable gift any parent or guardian, aunt or uncle, teacher or grandparent, gives a youngster. Hand them the keys to the door, give them a lift to the airport to go on that holiday, give them every chance possible to make a good life for themselves. Make sure, though, that in saying yes to life and all the wonderful things it has to offer that they know how to say no as well - and politeness be damned.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.