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A Guide to Preparing Your Child for College

If your teen is heading off to college soon, they are about to face a new set of joys, challenges and freedoms. There are many ways you can help them get ready for life outside of the nest.

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10 min read

Preparing your child for college can be both exciting and daunting. A teenager’s first dose of college will include changes in social, relational and academic expectations. The truth is that college freshmen are often not fully ready to tackle these expectations and challenges head-on by themselves.

As your child prepares to make the move out of the house for the first time, make sure the family is alongside them to offer guidance and support. As a parent, there are ways you can help ease your child into their new environment. Much of this is proactive.

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College Drinking

Drinking and college culture seem to go hand-in-hand. In fact, 60% of all college students drink at least monthly, and two-thirds of those admit to frequent binge drinking. Despite the federal age restriction on drinking, students under 21 easily acquire alcohol in college.

From alcohol poisoning to accidental falls to academic trouble, there are countless risks associated with binge and underage drinking. Here are a few of the biggest concerns of college partying.

Drunk Driving

As an adult, you already know this is dangerous. Though college students are adults too, the adolescent “invincibility complex” sometimes sticks around for a few years, causing students to believe that nothing bad will happen to them — regardless of the risks they take. Sadly, about 1,825 young people ages 18–24 are killed each year due to alcohol-related injuries, including drunk driving.

Alcohol Addiction

The earlier that a teen has their first drink, the more likely it is that they will develop an alcohol abuse later in life. Because alcohol abuse on college campuses happens at epidemic levels, it is easy for students to grow accustomed to binge drinking while in school. Either before or after graduation, some students realize that they are dependent upon the substance and find themselves in a place they never dreamed they’d be: managing alcoholism.

How to Help

  • Set Up and Pay for a Ridesharing Account – Services like Lyft or Uber can help curtail the temptation to save money by driving drunk or getting in a car with a drunk driver.
  • Talk to Your Teenager About Drinking and Its Many Dangers – A 2013 study by The Pennsylvania State University revealed that pre-college parental discussion reduced students’ high-risk drinking behaviors. When you talk to your kids about drinking, it’s okay to acknowledge the alcohol abuse on college campuses, but make sure to advise against drinking.

Drugs in College

Alcohol isn’t the only substance that runs rampant on college campuses. Students who experiment with illicit and prescription drugs put themselves at risk for physical and emotional harm, including addiction.

Marijuana

After alcohol, the most commonly abused substance on college campuses is marijuana. Despite this drug being decriminalized in some areas of the U.S., its dangers have become no less pronounced. Marijuana use has been linked to depression, lower life satisfaction, physical ailments (i.e. breathing problems), poor academic performance and more.

Party Drugs

These substances are meant to intensify the highs experienced while partying. Also known as “club drugs,” party drugs include cocaine, hallucinogens such as LSD, stimulants like methamphetamine, dissociatives such as Xanax, and a litany of emerging drugs.

Ecstasy is an especially popular party drug for college students — tragically, its use is cited in multiple drug-related deaths each year.

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Study Aid Drugs

In an effort to boost academic performance, some college students turn to drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to study — without a doctor’s prescription. Sometimes, parental pressure on college students can direct teens towards using these medications. A 2013 study at the University of Michigan found that one in nine college students has used these “smart drugs” non-medically within the past year.

While these medications may seem safer than street drugs, smart drugs can be just as addictive and damaging as illicit substances when they are abused.

How to Help

  • Open Up a Discussion About Drugs –Talk to your child about drug abuse on college campuses. If they tell you that they’ve already done drugs, don’t get angry — instead, ask them why they did it. Try to get to the root of the problem and tackle this before they leave home.
  • Set Up an Appointment with a Counselor – If your child says that they plan to continue using drugs in college, set up an appointment for them to talk to a drug and alcohol counselor.

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Sexual Assault

In a perfect world, your student wouldn’t need to worry about being intentionally harmed by someone else. Unfortunately, we live in a society where nearly 20% of college women and 5% of college men are sexually assaulted. Most of these attacks occur within the first three months of a student’s freshman year.

Though it is both unfair and unfortunate, college students of every gender must learn to protect themselves from sexual assault.

How to Help

  • Remind Your Teen to Avoid Walking Alone at Night – Encourage your child to use their rideshare account or to request an escort from campus security if they are going to be out late.
  • Identify Emergency Phones – Make sure your teen finds out the locations of their school’s on-campus emergency phones.
  • Remind Your Teen to Be Mindful of Surroundings – Tell your child to keep a close eye on their food and drinks at parties, where date rape drugs like roofies may be employed. Also, bear in mind that alcohol is the number one date rape drug. Half of sexual assaults occur while the victim, the perpetrator or both are intoxicated. Emphasize the importance of avoiding binge and underage drinking.
  • Remind Your Teen to Find Trusted Confidantes – Tell your child that if they are assaulted, they need to talk to someone about it right away — whether it’s a trusted friend, university counselor, doctor, or you. Let them know that you firmly believe that sexual assault is never the fault of the survivor, regardless of what they were wearing, where they were or what substances they were using.

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Time Management and Stress

Moving to college can be overwhelming. Though you may stress out wondering what college will be like and exactly where you’re sending your child, for college freshmen themselves, this step is even more overwhelming.

Not only do students find themselves immersed in a completely new culture, they are now fully responsible for their own schedules. From making their own study agendas to exercising regularly to managing finances, the transition to adulthood can be stressful. Left unmanaged, college-related stress can cause mental health issues such as anxiety, insomnia and eating disorders.

How to Help

  • Make a “Preparing for College Checklist” – List what your child will need for a successful semester away, and make sure your child has the necessary tools for success. For example, buy them a planner if they say they will use it. Note that a computer is increasingly necessary for today’s college students. If a new laptop isn’t in your budget, find an affordable used computer.
  • Help Your Teen Get Organized – Give your child a nudge in the right direction if they’re struggling to keep track of responsibilities. The university counseling office can assist your child in nailing down a balance between social activities, class and study time, exercise and extracurricular activities.
  • Remind Your Teen to Speak to Their Advisor – Encourage your child to set up an appointment with their academic advisor within the first month of school, so they have academic guidance as they begin university life.

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Maintaining Proper Nutrition

You’ve probably heard of the “Freshman 15,” which is the storied 15 pounds that college students tend to gain during freshman year. Though it doesn’t happen to everyone, weight gain is certainly common in college. After all, you’re no longer there to make sure they know how to eat healthy; in college, they are on their own.

Since most dorm rooms don’t have kitchens, high-calorie and low-nutrition convenience foods often become the norm. To boot, college students often find themselves more sedentary than they were in high school, since they need to spend much more time studying.

How to Help

  • Encourage Healthy Eating Habits – Teach your child to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full.
  • Buy Your Teen a Meal Plan Consider purchasing a meal plan every semester so that your child has access to the university dining hall. These places usually have healthy options like salad bars.
  • Remind Your Teen to Talk to Campus Resources – Most universities have an on-campus dietitian who can help your child make a nutrition plan and stick to it. Help your child locate this resource, and encourage them to use it.

Relationships

The social aspects of college can be just as challenging as the academic ones. From staying in touch with old friends to making new ones, college presents difficulties that your teen hasn’t faced before.

Roommates

Perhaps your child has shared a bedroom with a sibling before, but now they will be sharing a room with a perfect stranger. Even if your child’s roommate situation is a match made in heaven, interpersonal difficulties will inevitably arise.

Making Quality Friends

You may have met some of your lifelong friends during your own college years — hopefully your child will have the same experience when they are plucked from their comfortable high school group and thrust into a sea of new faces and names. They will be greatly influenced by the people around them, making it very important for them to choose quality friends.

Romantic Relationships

Your teenager may have already had their first boyfriend or girlfriend while in high school, but romantic relationships in college are often a little more serious. Whether or not students engage in serious relationships, it doesn’t change the fact that sexually transmitted diseases are rife on college campuses. In fact, about one in four college students has an STD.

While some of these diseases are curable, others stick with your teen for life, causing problems like infertility, severe discomfort and an increased risk of several cancers.

How to Help

  • Go Over Conflict Resolution Skills – Sit down with your child and go over some basic conflict resolution skills, such as remaining calm during a disagreement, waiting their turn to speak, avoiding accusations and blame, and listening to understand the other party. In especially tough roommate situations, know that your teen’s resident assistant can step in and mediate when issues arise.
  • Remind Your Teen to Choose Friends Carefully – Mention that trust should be earned over time and not given hastily. Ask them what kind of person they want to be: This will help them determine the kinds of friends they’d like to find.
  • Remind Your Teen to Stick to Priorities – While it’s perfectly normal to date in college, remind your child that their education should be their top priority during this time.
  • Talk to Your Teen About Safe Sex – Whether or not you and your teen have openly discussed safe sex in the past, remind your teen to use condoms and get tested for STDs regularly, so as to avoid pregnancy and STDs.

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Does Your Teen Need Addiction Help?

While college may be an opportunity for growth, drug and alcohol abuse on college campuses also serves as a lightning rod for temptation and dangerous habits. If you’re in the process of preparing your child for college, understand they are facing new challenges, stresses and curiosities each day. If you notice any signs of substance use in your teenager, reach out to drug and alcohol counselors immediately. The longer that substance abuse is allowed to continue, the more difficult it will be for your teen to stop.

We especially understand how much stigma of addiction can prevent families from getting the help they need. Don’t go through this alone. Our team at TeenRehabCenter.org is here to help you if you have questions about your teen’s drug or alcohol habits. In many cases teen drug rehab can help.

The very first step can be difficult, but it can heal. Together, we can begin your child’s road back to health.

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