By Joan Grayson Cohen, LCSW-C, Esq., Senior Manager, Access Services
As parents, it’s hard for us to keep up with all the ways kids find to take risks. For example, gathering with other teens to drink and loosen up before a structured event, known as “pre-gaming,” has become a common activity among teens. Why are teens “pre-gaming”? Isn’t it satisfying enough to attend the actual party or event?
Let’s ask the kids. Here’s how some teens describe what pre-gaming means to them:
- A get-together with “your own” group before the event
- A way for you and your friends to begin the evening and get a little “tipsy”
- A way to let the event you’re going to get started so that you are not the first ones to arrive
- A place to meet up with “your” friends so that designated drivers can be chosen and cars can be left behind in order to go together in safe, small groups
- A place to go that feels safe, where you can drink so that you don’t have to go to unfamiliar or uncomfortable places sober
- A venue to get drunk before the night starts so that you feel free enough to engage in sexual activity
- A “cool” expected pre-requisite to the event. It would be un-cool not to have been invited to a pre-game.
So the answer to my question is that for many teens, NO, it is not satisfying enough to attend only the party or the event. The pre-game is just as essential.
I must confess that I can’t completely disagree with some of the merits teens see in the pre-game concept. It’s a great idea to meet up with “your” friends so that you attend less familiar events as a group. It is smart to let an event get started before you arrive, and then get there to see whether this is the event you really wish to be at. And it’s very smart to come up with safety plans for the evening.
However, the pre-gaming rage raises several concerns. Many of the teens engaging in this activity are underage, which means their drinking is illegal. Teens have told me that many parents are aware of or are even at home during the pre-game. This makes them legally responsible for the illegal behavior of these teens. In addition, we are seeing younger high school teens, who don’t know their limits, consuming great quantities of alcohol in a short time at these events. Just as serious is that the massive quantity of drinking that takes place at the pre-games can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. Another danger is that kids are driving while under the influence or riding in a car with a driver who has consumed alcohol.
If we don’t help our teens get a handle on this practice, we will continue to see risky behavior, more cases of alcohol poisoning, and even more deaths.
Here are some steps we parents can take to make pre-gaming less attractive and less likely to occur in our teens’ lives.
- Start by making fewer pre-game venue options.
- Be home before your teens go out, and know where they are going.
- Don’t allow pre-gaming or partying in your home.
- Talk with your teens, letting them know you are aware of pre-gaming, and spelling out the potential consequences.
- Communicate with other parents to make sure you know what’s happening at the homes where your teens will be congregating.
Pre-gaming is one more challenge to parents, a potent reminder of the need to teach our teens to make healthy decisions that will not endanger themselves or others.
By Joan Grayson Cohen, LCSW-C, Esq., Senior Manager, Access Services, including Teen Outreach, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
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