Tips for Parents

One Tip to Help Prevent Alcohol Abuse: Communication

Sending your student off for freshman year of college can be scary. As students’ freedom increases, so does the potential for them to make mistakes and even put themselves at risk. Consequences of binge drinking in college include sexual abuse, assault, injury, poor academic performance and death, among others, according to College Drinking: Changing the Culture, a web site created by the NIAAA.

But there’s good news for parents:According to a recent study in the Journal of American College Health, parents who communicate regularly with their freshmen students—especially on weekends—affect their students’ drinking, for the better.

While phone calls might be the most obvious way to stay in touch, consider these alternatives:

Texting: Drop your student a text every once in a while to wish him luck on a test or ask how his weekend was. This is a non-intrusive way to show you care and provide an easy way for your student to respond.

Social networks: If you’re friends with your student on Facebook or follow him on Twitter, writing on his Facebook wall or replying to his tweets could be a good way to stay up-to-date on his life. But check with your student first; agree on boundaries with social networking and respect them.

Email: Students are often more connected to their email than their voicemail, and it’s easier to get in touch with them this way. Your student might be able to respond to your email during class on his phone but forget to check his voicemail until the end of the day.

Visits: If you don’t live too far away, planning a trip to take your student to lunch or shopping for last-minute dorm essentials can be a great way to support your student. Just make sure you plan the visit with your student (“drop-in” visits are rarely appreciated) and don’t wear out your welcome by visiting for too long or too often. Keep his independence and freedom a priority.

Care packages: Receiving an encouraging word from home is great, but when it’s accompanied by food or other gifts, it’s even better. Let your student know you’re thinking about him and love him with a periodic care package and a nice note.

While communication can help prevent over drinking, there are many factors that contribute to your student’s social life, nearly all of which are out of your control. If you fear that your student is partying too much, here are a few questions that can prove your student’s drinking may have reached an unhealthy level:

  • Does he feel guilty after a night or weekend of partying?
  •  Has he driven while intoxicated or gotten in the car with another driver who was intoxicated?
  •  Have his grades slipped or other responsibilities fallen to the wayside?
  •  Are his friends or other family members worried about him?
  •  Does he blackout and not remember what happened after drinking?
  •  Does he need to drink to relax after a test or a tough day?
  •  Has he lied to anyone about how much he’s had to drink or when he started drinking on any given day?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your role as a parent can seem confusing. You want to give your student room to learn his own lessons and become more independent, but you also want to protect him, especially from alcohol abuse and all that entails.

Above all, stay present in his life — even if you’re across the country — by communicating with him and letting him know your concerns. Look into the university’s drinking policies and talk to the counseling center for direction if further action needs to be taken. Also consider the resources at College Drinking: Changing the Culture.

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