Friday, 18 September 2015

Preloading at pre-parties: What are some parents thinking?

Sometimes I write these blog entries and I just feel really old! When I talk to young people in schools about the parties they go to, I sometimes wonder whether I just had a very sheltered up-bringing and it's me that's a bit strange! I then talk to parents and it becomes clear to me that parenting around teenage parties and gatherings has indeed changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Although there has always been teenage drinking at parties, very rarely, if ever, was it supported by parents. If teens did drink, they had to access the alcohol themselves and then find somewhere to drink it, preferably where their parents wouldn't find out about it. That has certainly changed and some of the parental behaviour that we are seeing today around the provision of alcohol is just plain bizarre!

One of the most strangest practices is the whole 'pre-party' phenomenon. Now before anyone says that this is not new and that teens went to friend's house before a party and then travelled there together in their day - that is not what I'm talking about. As much as your teen may want you to believe that they're simply 'gathering' at a friend's house, from what I hear that is not always the case. In reality these events are often about drinking alcohol and particularly about 'preloading'. The Urban Dictionary defines a pre-party as follows: "Before going out to a club or concert where you know the alcohol is going to be expensive, you meet up at someone's house to have a few drinks, usually in a short period of time, so that you arrive at the event properly buzzed, or even somewhat tanked." Although this definition refers to partygoers 18 years or over, the fact of the matter is that pre-parties are now the norm for many 14 and 15 year olds and most frighteningly, some of them are run with parents actually providing the alcohol for the young people attending!

Recently I was speaking to a couple of Year 11 girls about 'pre's' and I commented that these events didn't exist when I was younger. What made them different to the actual party they would be attending afterwards? Their answer was enlightening to say the least ...
  • A 'pre' is essentially where you have your first couple of drinks before you get to the actual party. How much you drink really depends on the type of party you were going to afterwards, i.e., if there was a strict 'no alcohol' policy then you would drink far more (but not so much that you were obviously drunk because you would not be allowed in if that was the case)
  • There are two types of pre-parties - those where parents allowed (and sometimes provided) alcohol and those where parents were unaware of the drinking that took place. Some pre-parties are also held at houses where the young people know the parents will not be present. They are finished relatively early, well before parents came home from a dinner party or a night at the movies and if the partygoers are careful (they are usually very small), Mum and Dad will be none the wiser
  • A key element of a 'pre' is that there is next to no supervision. The girls made it clear that many of the actual parties they now went to were very well supervised, some even having professional security, but at pre-parties they were very much left to their own devices
  • This was much more likely to be the place where they played drinking games and the like to increase intoxication quickly. They said it didn't 'look good' for girls to play 'shots' or 'skolling' games at a large party - doing it around their close group of friends was far more socially acceptable 
The vast majority of the young people that I speak to make it clear that pre-parties are really all about the alcohol and preloading before they get to the major event for the night. As I have already said, what is truly frightening is that some parents actually provide the alcohol for this preloading! Now if you wish to let your child drink alcohol in your own home that is absolutely your business - what you do with your own child is completely up to you. But if you decide to let them drink, make sure you keep them with you until the alcohol has worn off - sending them off to someone else's home even slightly intoxicated is shameful! Putting on a party and looking after a group of teenagers at that event is a huge responsibility, but when young people arrive affected by alcohol, the chance of something going wrong is greatly increased and makes the job so much more difficult. When that alcohol has been provided by their own parent it is grossly unfair to the family hosting the party and is simply unacceptable!

Those parents who host pre-parties at their home and provide a 'couple of drinks' before they leave are even more inappropriate because more often than not, the parents of others attending aren't even aware that this is happening. What I don't get is the whole rationale behind 'preloading', particularly from a parent's perspective. I understand that from an economic standpoint drinking before you go may save you some money (particularly of you are clubbing, where alcohol can be incredibly expensive), but irrespective of that you are giving your son or daughter (and it doesn't matter whether they're 14 or 23 years old) alcohol and then sending them out of your house intoxicated to some degree - how does that make any sense? You only have to come with me to a school and meet a 15 year-old boy who has been slashed by a broken bottle or a Year 11 girl who has been sexually assaulted at a party to realize that when a teen goes to a party or gathering they really do need to have their wits about them. Having a couple of drinks beforehand makes absolutely no sense at all!

Pre-parties are increasingly becoming the norm across the country, with younger and younger teens attending such events. Parents already have their hands full trying to keep on top of what is happening at the teenage parties and gatherings that are held every weekend - pre-parties make the whole monitoring thing far more difficult. That said, it is important that parents do their best to find out as much as they possibly can about these events - it's not going to be easy and your child won't like you doing the checking but it'll be worth it if it keeps your child even just a bit safer on a Saturday night!

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