Your children are headed off to college! Congratulations.
While the achievement of getting into and attending college is cause for grand celebration, many parents also feel a bit of worry over what might happen to their kids while they’re away — or what they might do. There certainly is a temptation for many young college students to try new things, and drugs and alcohol often are part of that mix.
Here’s what you can do to help your child stay clean and sober while in college.
Drug use is less common at college, but it’s more likely that students will drink.
First, take heart that the use of marijuana, nicotine and synthetic drugs is lower among college students than among their peers who are not in school, according to data from the National Institutes of Health. On the flip side, though, alcohol use is higher among college students, with 62 percent of students reporting drinking in the past month, compared to 56.4 percent of their non-college peers. It’s interesting to note, too, that those numbers are flipped for high schoolers: kids who are not going to college drink more in high school than kids who are. Looking at the aggregate, perhaps that suggests parental influence in the home?
Parental influence can help keep kids from drinking at college.
Second, and speaking of parental influence, it’s worth noting that one major reason students don’t drink at college is that their parents wouldn’t approve. According to a review of research by the National Institutes of Health, “college students’ drinking attitudes and behaviors are correlated with parental attitudes and behaviors, especially during the first two years on campus.”
The report goes on to say that parental influence can be so strong among college students that it can even mitigate the impact of any heavy drinking done by students’ peers.
Surveys have shown that the quality of the relationships that children have with their parents — “especially the father–son relationship,” the NIH notes — are inversely related to alcohol problems among first-year students at college. In other words, better relationships typically lead to fewer drinking problems. And if parents disapprove of teen alcohol use and pay attention to what their kids do when they go out while living at home, alcohol use (and the consequences of drinking) are lower when the kids go to college.
“Even when the student is at college,” the report says, “parents exert an influence on their children’s drinking decisions and moderate peer influences.”
Overall, according to research, nearly 10 percent of full-time college students age 18 to 22 drank alcohol for the first time in the past year. The best thing you can do to help your first-year students stay clean and sober at college and/or minimize any problems with alcohol is to cultivate good relationships with them while they’re at home and set good boundaries on what they can do. That’s not an easy thing to do, to be sure, but there’s really no substitute.