So Your Teen is Off to College…
Ok parents, are you ready for college? Towels and extra-long sheets? Check. Books and pens? Check. Alcohol? Wait, whaaattt???
While alcohol is probably not on your “to buy” list, it’s often a component of college life many parents don’t consider. Unfortunately, parents cannot afford to ignore that, for some students, alcohol is considered an integral part of the college experience. So before the list making and shopping, make time to have conversations about alcohol and college life, your expectations, and options regarding alcohol use.
Besides being against the law, alcohol use by youth under 21 carries potential dangers, other than legal, which your college bound teen needs to know. Alcohol is quickly absorbed by the bloodstream and reaches the brain and organs within 5-10 minutes of ingestion. Alcohol affects the part of the brain that manages impulse control, coordination, memory, judgement, and inhibitions. Sound like anything your young adult might need in college?
While many college students make responsible decisions about alcohol, being in a new environment with more freedom and possibly more access to alcohol has the potential to lead to risky drinking decisions. So, what’s a parent to do?
For starters, make your expectations clear. Research indicates that parents have more influence on youth than they think and zero tolerance messages appear most effective in preventing alcohol use and consequences- even in youth who have already used alcohol.
Alcohol use can affect all areas of college life including missing classes, falling behind in school work, unintentional injury, risky choices about sex, and alcohol related arrests or school suspensions. By having regular discussions about potential risks involved with alcohol and other drug use, you can help your teen weigh the consequences and develop strategies for getting out of, or avoiding altogether, risky situations. It’s also a good idea to make sure your teen knows how to get help on campus.
If asked about your own college alcohol use, be honest. Acknowledge risks you took and consequences you experienced. Keep in mind that you want to answer these questions in such a way that there is no suggestion that alcohol use is permissible or expected.
As important as these pre-college talks are, don’t stop there! Keep having regular conversations throughout the college years to demonstrate your interest in your student’s well-being and allow you to look for any early signs of problems related to alcohol. It’s also important as your teen ages to reinforce their understanding of potential consequences they face if they provide alcohol to minors. Your teen may be of legal age, but if they are caught providing alcohol to anyone under 21, they are at risk of legal prosecution.
College can be a life-altering experience. With your help, it can be for all the right reasons!