The feeling of sending a grown child off to college for the first time can be described as a strange mixture of pride, relief and severe anxiety. What do parents need to know as their adult child takes this big step? As a public health researcher, I have some good news to share, and some reminders about what to be aware of during this critical transition for both you and them.
The first piece of good news is that your voice matters. Your child might not tell you, but when researchers have asked them about your influence, they find that parent attitudes and the rules you put in place during their development are major influences on their risk-taking behavior. Preparing and protecting your child from engaging in excessive drinking during college starts way before “drop-off” day. Even in middle school, and throughout high school, sending a clear message of your disapproval for underage drinking is critical and equally important in college.
To some parents, it might be tempting to think that you can “teach” your child how to drink responsibly by allowing them to drink before going to college. Many parents also think that not allowing their children to drink turns alcohol into “forbidden fruit,” increasing the child’s interest in drinking. Instead, research has shown that having parents who communicate clear expectations against using alcohol during high school is associated with a lower chance of drinking excessively during college 1.
From our own study of more than 1,000 college students ages 17 to 19, we found that those who didn’t drink during high school drank an average of 1.8 drinks per occasion, compared with 5 drinks among those who did drink during high school 2.