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5 conversations you should have before sending your child to college

September 28, 2016

Every August and September, parents and kids everywhere prepare for the first day of school.  No matter the grade or level of schooling, this is a universal experience that families everywhere experience.  The first day of school is often met with cheers and tears… and sometimes both!  While the first day of school is always a big deal, there are few first days that are bigger than the first day of college.  If your (big) baby has started or is starting their first semester at a higher education institution, you know there is a lot to do!  Packing, unpacking, registering for classes, and meeting new people are just a few items that need to be checked off of a very long list!  And, as if you don’t have enough to do already, if you haven’t had these conversations with your college bound son or daughter yet, make sure you tack these talks onto your to-do list!

Sexual safety-

Discussing sexual safety is never item #1 on the “Fun things to talk about” list.  No one wants to have this conversation, but it’s imperative that we do.  If you have already talked with your son or your daughter about staying safe, being respectful, and appropriate dating relationships, good for you!  If you haven’t, then you are running late… but better late than never! 

The truth is, both our daughters and sons are at risk to be assaulted. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, and those are just the cases that are reported.  Our sons and daughters need to know how to keep themselves as safe as possible.  Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, but there are things that any young person can do to decrease the likelihood that they could be victimized. 

Talk about being responsible for oneself.  If your son or daughter is going to go out and socialize (and most college students do), there usually comes a time where they are offered alcohol or drugs.  Speak honestly with your child about knowing their limits, and the dangers of accepting drinks or drugs from others.  Encourage them to seek out a group of people that they feel they can trust, so that they can all look out for each other.  Teach your son or daughter about respect for themselves and others and make sure that they understand what consent, assault, force, rape, and the word “no” really mean.

Drugs-

On most college campuses, drugs and alcohol are not hard to find. Talk with your child about the risks associated with drug use. The reality is that many students, at the very least, experiment with drugs or alcohol, either before or during college. For some, experimentation remains just that. But for others, trying different substances can open the door to dangerous habits that can lead to addiction. Some of these reminders could be the same stuff you’ve been saying for years: Don’t drink and drive, don’t get into a car with someone under the influence, etc.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve already said them. Keep saying them! While our children might get annoyed, they will also know that we love them and want them to be safe.

Protecting themselves… and their stuff-

College campuses are large, open areas where people congregate and move around all day, and often late into the night. Provide your son or daughter with the resources they need to keep themselves and their belongings safe. Car alarms, bike locks, and insurance for expensive items, including mobile devices, are smart ways to keep belongings safe. 

Provide your son or daughter with the resources they need to keep themselves and their belongings safe.

When you are on campus with your child, take note of the location where they live, as well as where classes are located and when they are scheduled. Roaming around campus to get to a 2:00pm class is usually no big deal- there are people everywhere- but schedules don’t always work out quite so perfectly. I remember as a college freshman having a class at 9:30pm! By then, the campus was dark and quiet; I never left for that class without my pepper spray! Fortunately, these days students have more than just pepper spray they to protect themselves.  Make sure that they download and use apps that are designed to keep them safe. On Watch, bSafe, and Circle of 6 are commonly used downloadable apps.  Encourage them to use campus security, and to travel in a group whenever possible.

Be fiscally smart-

Back when I was in college, it was a common sight to see credit card companies signing up students for cards all over campus. Students were reeled in with free gifts and discounts, and often found themselves owning a credit card with a limit and an interest rate that was way too high for someone who was still learning to manage money! If you haven’t already done so, explain to your child how credit cards work. Make sure that your child has a good grasp on earning, saving, spending, wanting, and needing- and the differences between all of them. Let them know that a credit card in their name means that they are responsible for the charges they accrue, and if they can’t pay for what they buy, it will have a lasting impact on their credit history for years to come.

Home rules still apply-

For many students, going to college is such an exciting and fun time, that it can be easy to forget that there are people out there that might try to victimize them, either through hurting them or taking their property. It’s not unusual for students to bond quickly and make friends with roommates and neighbors fast. “Open door policy” is commonly seen as students get to know each other, with students moving easily from dorm to dorm or apartment to apartment. While we want our sons and daughters to make friends, encourage them to use common sense safety tips. 

Always lock doors and windows, and do not allow people into their space if they do not know the person or feel uncomfortable with the person. It is not safe to assume that everyone is trustworthy, and our children should reach out for help immediately if they feel that something is wrong. Encourage them to get to know their R.A. (Resident Assistant) if they live on campus, and make sure they have the contact info for their local and campus police department. Remind them to be mindful of their belongings, especially technology, as it is expensive, and a surefire way to gain lots of personal information about someone if it can be hacked.

After all these safety warnings and “be carefuls”, your child might feel a little overwhelmed. Turn this conversation of “have fun- but not too much fun!” into a positive experience by reminding them how proud you are of their accomplishments. They have officially made it to the next level of learning, and that is no small feat. Encourage them to spread their wings and to find out who they are and what they are about; college will be lots of hard work but lots of fun, too.  Encourage them to enjoy themselves and their new found freedom

Meanwhile, don’t forget to enjoy your new found freedom, too!  

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