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How Important are Parents During the College Years?

Two of the biggest concerns parents have when they send their sons and daughters to college are whether they will be safe, and whether they will do well academically. Both of those concerns are legitimate, and both are closely related to alcohol and other drugs, whether used by the student or by their fellow students.

Even at this late stage of early adulthood, parents continue to exhibit influence on the choices their children make as far as friends, which in turn influences their son’s and daughter’s drinking (and other risky choices) in college. Perhaps the most important thing parents can do to help ensure their children make healthy, informed decisions while in college is to clearly communicate their positive expectations. Parents should play an active role with their college-age children by talking to them about their academic and social lives. Phone calls, postcards and e-mails are easy mechanisms to remain engaged, especially during those critical first few days and weeks college life when students are most vulnerable and are at greatest risk of making high-risk decisions. Research has shown that the more involved parents are, the more likely their children are to make safer choices.

Talking points for parents:

The following talking points may be helpful to get the conversation going, and are reprinted for your reference.

Set clear and realistic expectations regarding academic performance. Studies conducted nationally have demonstrated that partying may contribute as much to a student’s decline in grades as the difficulty of his or her academic work. If students know their parents expect sound academic work, they are likely to be more devoted to their studies and have less time to get in trouble with alcohol.

Stress to students that alcohol is toxic and excessive consumption can fatally poison. This is not a scare tactic. The fact is students die every year from alcohol poisoning. Discourage dangerous drinking through participation in drinking games, hazing, or in any other way. Parents should ask their students to also have the courage to intervene when they see someone putting their life at risk through participation in dangerous drinking.

Tell students to intervene when classmates are in trouble with alcohol. Nothing is more tragic than an unconscious student being left to die while others either fail to recognize that the student is in jeopardy or fail to call for help due to fear of getting the student in trouble. Note:  Brescia University has a “Medical Amnesty Policy” written in the student handbook which states:  “Students seeking help for inebriation, overdose or potential addiction shall be treated in complete confidence and are not subject to disciplinary proceedings, provided the sole reason the University discovers this arose from his/her seeking medical attention or other professional assistance. Additionally, a student seeking similar assistance for a fellow student will be exempt from disciplinary action in consideration of his/her efforts to assist another in need of help.”

Tell students to stand up for their right to a safe academic environment. Students who do not drink can be affected by the behavior of those who do, ranging from interrupted study time to assault or unwanted sexual advances. Students can confront these problems directly by discussing them with the offender. If that fails, they should notify the housing director or other residence hall staff.

Know the alcohol scene on campus and talk to students about it. Students grossly exaggerate the use of alcohol and other drugs by their peers. A past survey found that Brescia University students believed 94 percent of their peers drink alcohol at least once a week, when the actual rate was less than 50 percent. Students are highly influenced by peers and tend to drink up to what they perceive to be the norm. Confronting misperceptions about alcohol use is vital.

Avoid tales of drinking exploits from your own college years. Entertaining students with stories of drinking back in “the good old days” normalizes what, even then, was abnormal behavior. It also appears to give parental approval to dangerous alcohol consumption.

Encourage your student to volunteer in community work. In addition to structuring free time, volunteerism provides students with opportunities to develop job-related skills and to gain valuable experience. Helping others also gives students a broader outlook and a healthier perspective on the opportunities they enjoy. Volunteer work on campus helps students further connect with their school, increasing the likelihood of staying in college.

Make it clear–underage alcohol consumption and alcohol-impaired driving are against the law. Parents should make it clear that they do not condone breaking the law. Parents of college students should openly and clearly express disapproval of underage drinking and dangerous alcohol consumption. And, if parents themselves drink, they should present a positive role model in the responsible use of alcohol.

Reprinted from College Parents of America, 700 13th Street, N.W., Suite 950, Washington, D.C., 20005.

Fall Semester: A Time for Parents to Revisit Discussions about College Drinking

For more information visit:  http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/CollegeParents/

Collegiate Mental Health Issues:

Did you know that nearly half of all college students reported feeling so depressed that they couldn’t function during the last school year? More than that have faced an emotional problem of some sort. Sometimes these challenges can make it difficult for students to keep up with the demands of college life, and sometimes the impact is even more devastating. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. With so many people struggling, why is it still hard for us to talk about “mental health?” Nearly all mental health issues can be improved with proper treatment. When we decrease the stigma around mental health and encourage students to seek help if they need it, we are changing and saving lives.

Please download and executive summary of the 2006 “mtvU College Mental Health Study: Stress, Depression, Stigma & Students.”

Behavioral Health Treatment Locator:

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Guidance for Parents:

Jeanne Clery Act & Campus Public Safety Information: