Parents of college and university students represent an important and powerful constituency in creating safe and healthy campus environments. Parents can convey messages to students that promote healthy decisions and deter high-risk behaviors. Parents can also work with campus administrators and community members as catalysts of change by fostering a positive college experience.
Starting with the college selection process, parents can take note of physical indicators and other signs that show the extent of the “party culture” on campus. Parents should be aware of the campus alcohol and other drug (AOD) policies, including the campus code of conduct and student alcohol policy, and to what extent each is enforced. Additionally, prior to their own student’s college experience, parents can ensure they send the appropriate messages of what college is all about – pursuing a first-rate education and opening one’s horizons – as opposed to exposing their children to stories of their own high-risk behaviors while a college student. Reinforcing expectations and norms of a party culture is an inaccurate portrayal of campus life and can lead students to make unhealthy, and in some instances dangerous, decisions about AOD use.
Once their children are in college, parents can play an active role in the prevention of college student AOD use by joining a Campus-and-Community Coalition or a Campus Task Force. Parental notification policies are also effective methods for formally including parents in enforcing healthy choices and deterring high-risk behavior. In issues related to college student mental health and well-being, parents can voice their concerns to be notified as soon as possible if their student displays signs of distress or crisis. Parents can cultivate open and clear lines of communication with campus administrators, and also be clear with their students about their expectations. A sampling of how some parents effectively enact such lines of communication is provided in the Prevention in Action link within this section of the site.
Perhaps the most important thing parents can do to help ensure their children make healthy, informed decisions while in college is to stay involved in their children’s lives. Parents should play an active role with their college-age children by talking to their kids about their academic and social lives. Phone calls and e-mails are easy mechanisms to remain engaged, especially during the first few weeks and months of college life when students are most vulnerable and are at greatest risk of making high-risk decisions. Research has shown that the more involved parents are, the more likely their children are to make safe choices about their AOD use.
With a thorough understanding of the full range of forces that effect student high-risk behaviors and well-being, parents can exert a positive and powerful influence on campus administrators to provide comprehensive policies, programs, and services to support their students through a healthy college learning experience. For more information on an effective, comprehensive prevention approach, visit the Effective Prevention section of this site.