BY JANET FORBES, BUSINESS & COMMUNICATION LIASON, CASSADAGA JOB CORPS ACADEMY
As parents help their teens prepare to begin college, their focus often is on issues such as:
• What is the academic reputation of the college?
• How big are the classes?
• How are the lectures and residential halls?
• What is the social life and campus like?
• What is available at the Student Union/Campus Center?
• What is the food like?
While parents have seen the reviews, reports and rankings of schools, in general these articles neglect to discuss some issues that can make serious differences in the student’s experience at college. These include medical and mental health issues.
It is important for parents to have an open dialogue about college life and expectations with their teens before they go off to college. Helen E. Johnson, author of Don’t Tell Me What To Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years, offers some suggestions on the best way to do so. She has developed some suggested talking points to help make these important discussions easier.
Per Ms. Johnson - A college freshman is essentially a high school senior without parents around. New students are usually enthralled with the instant freedom they have in college and excited about the new friends they are making. The vast majority of college students do well academically and stay physically and mentally healthy. However, too many students today stumble into high-risk behaviors and situations, unaware of the dangers and consequences.
Very soon you are going to lose whatever control you have of your adolescent’s daily behavior, but you can still have influence. While you will not be the only influence in your adolescent’s life, you can be the best influence.
Don’t assume that your son or daughter knows how you feel about difficult topics, such as underage drinking, drug use, and “hooking up” (e.g. sexual encounters). Believe it or not, your son or daughter wants to know where you stand. Start talking now and don’t stop, even if your college-bound child seems to be tuning you out.
Ms. Johnson offers some ways to begin the conversation:
“When you get to college you’re going to be faced with making decisions every day. At first you may be a bit overwhelmed with so many choices. I want to talk with you about some of the important decisions you’ll be making and let you know how I expect you to handle the freedoms and responsibilities of college life. I love you very much and that means I worry about your health and safety. It’s my job as your parent to talk with you about some of the high-risk behaviors that could put you in danger.”
“Under-age drinking is a problem on most campuses. I’m concerned about out-of-control drinking at parties and wonder if you’ve thought about how you’ll handle those situations.”
“I understand that drinking and drug use figure prominently in incidents of sexual abuse, date rape, and other forms of violence. Each year 1,400 college students die in accidents related to alcohol and 500,000 are injured. Let’s talk about some ways you can protect yourself if you find yourself in a dangerous situation. I’d also like to talk about what you can do to intervene if you witness a friend in trouble.”
“First and foremost, I expect you to respect yourself and others. This means never, ever driving while drunk or being in a car with a drunk driver. Drinking at your age is against the law and I expect you to be a law-abiding citizen. If you break the law and are charged with under-age drinking, there will be serious consequences. You may be expelled from school and have a record that will close doors to future options. One bad decision can change your life.”
“I also expect that, if you make bad choices, you will acknowledge your mistakes and do whatever you need to do to resolve your problems. All of us make mistakes. The important thing is that you learn from your choices, because your choices will shape who you will become. I’ll be there to listen when tough decisions are looming to help you handle mistakes and disappointments, but the consequences of your behavior will be yours to face and manage.”
“There will be many people on campus who can help you if you are in trouble. I expect you to use the resources that are available to you. I believe that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
Most freshman are approximately 18. They are becoming young adults, and in most states are leaving the ranks of minors and are able to vote, serve in the armed forces, and make adult decisions and sign contracts. They are also able in most states to make medical decisions and sign medical consents. This can be a hard adjustment for both parents and teens.
Medical consent and confidentiality are areas that can cause friction between parents and campus or off-campus healthcare providers. College age students, in general, have the right to consent for their medical treatment and the right to confidentiality over their medical information. In most states, breaking this confidentiality and releasing information without permission from the student is against the law. It is helpful for parents to understand that healthcare providers may not release information about the healthcare of their children without the student’s signed consent. This can be difficult to understand, particularly if they are paying a significant portion of the tuition and other college costs. However, confidentiality is an important part of the student becoming an adult and helping the student to talk openly with their healthcare provider. Counseling services will usually also have a policy of strict confidentiality.
Starting in 1998, federal law allows but does not require, col-
leges and universities to notify parents any time a student under 21 violates drug or alcohol laws. Since then, many colleges and universities have adopted a policy of mandatory parental notification if a student is found to be involved in risky or illegal behavior such as public drunkenness, drug use or criminal activity.
Entering college is a transitional landmark that goes beyond leaving home. Parents will no longer be personally responsible for attending to the daily healthcare needs of their son or daughter. It is a time for adolescents to learn the process of self-care and good health practices. Parents can assist with this process by “letting go” of some of the day-to-day involvement and allowing students to engage in more of their own decision-making. Campus health services and other college staff will assist with this transition through one-on-one counseling, education and programmed health promotion activities on campus. With proper parental guidance, incoming college students will be well on their way to a state of optimal health – physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, and spiritually.
Source – The Healthy Student – A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Teens For The College Years by Dr. Lawrence Neinstein and Helen Johnson.
SAM – The Society for Adolescent Medicine
Forbes is the Business and Community Liaison at Cassadaga Job Corps Academy. She has an AAS in Nursing from Jamestown Community College and a BS in Human Services and Community with a concentration in women and family issues from SUNY Empire State College. She lives in Jamestown and is the mother of an adult son and grandmother of three.
For more information about CJCA, contact Janet Forbes at (716) 595-4237, email Forbes.Janet@jobcorps.org. or visit http://cassadaga.jobcorps.gov