'Pre's' and 'free's': What are they and why are they so popular?

There would be very few parents of teens who are not aware of 'pre's', i.e., smaller gatherings held at someone's home before the actual party or other event, (e.g., school formal, concert, music festival, etc) where young people meet to prepare for the night ahead. This usually (but not always) involves some sort of pre-loading on alcohol, particularly if they know that the event they are attending has security present or the parents hosting the party are known to be vigilant when it comes to underage drinking. Some of these events are actually hosted by parents who want to provide a 'safe space' for their child and their friends to drink alcohol. As I have said many times before, what you do with your child around alcohol is totally your business, but inviting other people's children to your home to drink without ensuring that is okay with their parents is shameful. I also question the idea of allowing your teen to have a few drinks and then sending them off to someone else's home for the host parents to look after for the evening ...

Pre's are now just a part of teenage life and they're not going to go away anytime soon. Thankfully most parents are now at least somewhat aware of their existence, although for some they still come as a shock and only find out about them when something goes wrong.

Janet is the mother of a 14-year-old girl, Sienna, and had no idea about pre's. She had been taking her daughter to parties for years and knew most of Sienna's friends' parents. In Year 7 and 8 most of the events her daughter was invited to started in the early evening and she had no problem dropping her off at a party at 6.00pm as that was not unusual. When Sienna was younger, Janet usually went and said hello to the host parents but that rarely happened now - she knew her daughter and her friends - she had no reason to believe anything was amiss. When she got a phone call three hours later from a mother she had never met telling her that she had found Sienna laying on her front lawn totally drunk, Janet was devastated. The mother was hosting a 15-year-old birthday party and Sienna, along with some of her friends, had turned up intoxicated. Janet later found out that her daughter had been attending pre's for some time. These were usually held at homes where the parents had gone out and these young girls were preloading and then moving onto parties, no-one any the wiser.  

If your 14, 15 or 16-year-old asks to go to someone's house in the late afternoon or very early evening (before 6.00pm) on a Saturday night, the chances are that wherever they're headed, that's not the place they're going to end up at later that night. They're off to a 'pre' … Some parents question how they get from where they are dropped off to where they end up - does a 'cool Mum' or the Dad who wants to be his son's best friend take them? For most young people that I ask, the answer is nearly always the same - Uber! What amazes me here is that we have groups of teens as young as 14 travelling via this service every weekend when the actual Uber rules are quite clear - drivers are not permitted to drive anyone under 18 without them being accompanied by an adult. Here are the rules clearly stated on the Uber website:

"A rider must be at least 18 years of age to have an Uber account and request rides. Anyone under 18 must be accompanied by someone 18 years of age or older on any ride.
As a driver-partner in a city that doesn't allow minors to ride, you should decline the ride request if you believe the person requesting the ride is under 18. When picking up riders, if you feel they are underage, you may request they provide a driver's license or ID card for confirmation. If a rider is underage, please do not start the trip or allow them to ride."  

Regardless, some parents continue to use this rideshare service as a parenting tool, choosing to let their teens travel to and from parties on the weekend by Uber rather than taking and/or picking them up themselves. It's no wonder then that sometimes things go very wrong ...

As already said, most parents are aware of pre's, however, over the past couple of months I have heard from a number of Mums and Dads who have had bad experiences with 'free's'. It doesn't take too much imagination to work out what a 'free' is - basically it means a 'free-house', i.e., a party where there are no parents present. Over the past couple of weeks I have collected some information from young people I have spoken to about these events, including definitions, how they're run (i.e., what happens, both the good and bad) and why they're so popular. Here are a couple of quotes that parents may find interesting:

"A free is a party or gathering where there are no parents. They've either gone away for the weekend or travelling overseas and they don't know the party is happening. But sometimes they're just staying at a hotel and know what's going on which is just mad because sometimes these parties get really out-of-control"

"If we know there's a free on in the area, that's the party that everyone wants to go to. They're great if only people you know turn up but they can get really messed up if you get gate-crashers. That's when you see houses get wrecked and fights break out. Most of the time people who have a free at their house try to keep them quite quiet but that's really hard to do"

"I've been to a couple of frees where the police have been called and they're really scary. As much as everyone says they like frees, most of us don't want to get into trouble and I've seen older guys do some really bad stuff to people's houses, particularly if they're really drunk"

"The best frees are held at houses that are empty - either they've just been finished being built or people have just moved out. There are some areas where there are piles of houses being built and not many people live there yet - they're the real wild frees that everyone wants to go to"

"Sometimes a free can just be a short gathering at someone's house early in the night - usually when parents have gone out for dinner or to the movies. You only have a few hours but you can then go out somewhere else later if you want"

In my experience, when these events have been held at people's homes, the parents have either travelled overseas and left their teens (some as young as 14) by themselves for a period of weeks (or even months in one case), or in many other cases, simply gone out for the evening (some just for a few hours, e.g., to see a movie or go out for dinner, or go out to a party themselves, returning in the early hours of the next morning). Some of the parents who have contacted me have been blown away by what they have come home to and totally devastated by their teen's breach of trust. Here is an excerpt from an Facebook message I received from Greg, a father of two teens:

"My wife and I have two sons aged 15 and 16 and we have always made our expectations and rules clear. Up to a couple of weeks ago we had no reason to believe that we couldn't trust them. We went to a 6.30pm session of a movie at the local cinema and told them we would be back by no later than 10.00pm, as we would likely get something to eat afterwards. Both of them regularly attend parties (with either my wife or I taking them and picking them up) but they told us they were staying at home that night. When the movie finished at around 9.00pm we changed our mind about grabbing a meal and went straight home. When we turned into our street there were teenagers everywhere. When we realized that they were coming out of our home panic set in ... Our home was a mess and when we finally found our sons both of them broke down in tears. When the police had finally removed everyone from our home a couple of hours later we found out that our eldest son had organised a 'free' at our home for about 20 of his friends. When the youngest invited some of his mates, it went downhill from there ..."  

Pre-parties, as well as free's, 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's and free's 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 what their teen is supposedly doing when they go out for the evening- 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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