Many parents underestimate their ability to impact in their college student’s life; parents can still be very influential during early adulthood. The Research Institute on Addictions conducted a survey in 1995 that showed adolescents, regardless of race or income level, are less likely to engage in problem behaviors, including drinking, if their parents supervise their activities and monitor their friendships. Recent research has replicated the efficacy of parental intervention and its positive impact on student behaviors (Ray et al., 2006, Turrisi et al., 2001). You may not be able to actively monitor your student when they are away from home but you can be available to talk and listen.
A study conducted in 2001 showed that students whose parents had a conversation with them about alcohol use were significantly less likely to hold positive perceptions of alcohol use and also had a significant reduction in drinking and drunkenness tendencies (Turrisi, Jaccard, Taki, Dunham & Grimes). Open communication is important and a great way to offer your support during college.
You have a role in preparing your student to make responsible choices. You are helping to shape your student’s character. If there is a history of alcoholism in the family, it is very important to discuss this. While the interplay between genetics and environment is not entirely clear, if there is a family history of any addiction, there is a higher risk for abusing alcohol. Also, if there are mental health issues already, alcohol abuse can worse or create new symptoms. Keep this in mind when discussing alcohol with your student.
Information Is Key
Once in college, your student will have the ability to make all decisions on their own and the full responsibility to deal with the consequences. Be direct when discussing alcohol and drugs and share your expectations regarding:
- Life skills
Students have a responsibility to their campus-community. Show your interest by continuing the dialogue throughout the time he or she is on campus. You need to be able to draw the line, but understand your student is growing up. Most of all, believe in your own power to help them avoid trouble:
- Be a role model. Be honest about what you will do if an alcohol or drug violation occurs and then follow through.
- Be factual and straightforward. Correct misperceptions about alcohol and other drugs.
- Information is always the best defense. Explore our website for even more resources.
- Avoid scare tactics. Be open and honest.
Your son or daughter wants to know if you were ever into drugs or drinking, what should you say? Many struggle with the idea of being asked questions if they bring up the topic of drugs and alcohol. Questions such as:
- Why isn’t marijuana legal?
- What is so bad about marijuana?
- Did you ever drink alcohol underage?
- Did you drink while you were in college?
- Did you ever try drugs?
Every parent will have a different stance on this issue. One effective method is not to lie to your student, but not to glamorize your college days either. There must be a balance between sharing too much and not sharing enough. If you do choose to share a brief experience with your student, make it just that, brief. Also be sure to choose your stories wisely. Be honest with your student but also remember it is not about you. Reflect the conversation back to your student. Possible responses include asking why the question is being posed in the first place or why the answer would be important to the student. Another response is to ask if a specific answer would generate a specific course of action for your student. Here are a few examples of ways to answer these questions:
- "I took drugs because some of my friends used them, and I thought I needed to do the same in order to fit in. In those days, people didn’t know as much as they do now about all the bad things that can happen when you take drugs." (TimetoTalk, p. 12)
- “Everyone makes mistakes and trying drugs was one of my biggest mistakes ever. I’ll do anything to help you avoid making the same stupid decision that I made when I was your age.” (TimetoTalk, p. 12)
- “I started drinking when I was young and, as you can see, it’s been a battle ever since. Because of my drinking, I missed a big part of growing up, and every day I have to fight with myself so it doesn’t make me miss out on even more — my job, my relationships, and most importantly, my time with you. I love you too much to watch you make the same mistakes I’ve made.” (TimetoTalk, p. 12)
- “Marijuana has a much higher THC level today than it did when I was growing up; about 40% more. It’s not the same drug anymore and now I know the dangers I didn’t know then. Let’s look it up together.”
Young adults' decisions follow them into the future, into the career they choose and into the life they will lead once they graduate from GW. Give your student beneficial information to make wise choices. You are investing in your student’s future by providing the knowledge and support to help him or her make informed decisions.
Students who drink heavily in college may not realize their full academic potential and the effects of drinking may reach beyond the classroom. Many companies routinely screen for drugs and alcohol before considering applicants for a job or even an internship, especially jobs in government or on Capitol Hill.
Businesses are increasingly conducting extensive background checks on potential employees, using criminal checks as well as student judicial record checks. Graduates may be denied employment opportunities as a result of alcohol-related criminal convictions as well. Even acquittals may remain on their permanent record. Facebook is being used more frequently by employers to screen their intern or job candidates. Remind your student to be smart when posting pictures or comments in public. The fact is, drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, and it may have serious short- and long-term consequences.