College is a time of great transition and can often be difficult for students and parents, yet maintaining a communicative relationship is important. Students can still make decisions and parents can facilitate this process. This is a time for students to stretch their thinking, take interesting (and maybe bizarre) classes, and begin to separate from Mom and Dad. While this process is unfolding, we encourage you to support your child through the transition. Our advice: keep the lines of communication open.
Tips for Talking About Alcohol and Other Drugs with Your Child
A conversation you can’t afford not to have
- While your student is away from home, you should talk with them about alcohol. Let them know you're available to talk and listen. It can do more than shape a life - it can save a life. College Parents of America has developed eight points to assist parents with discussing alcohol issues with their students. They are listed here, along with tips for how and when to begin this important conversation.
- Set clear and realistic expectations regarding your student's academic performance. Research studies indicate that partying may contribute as much to a student's decline in grades as difficulty with academic work. See Grades and Drinking
- Stress to your student that alcohol is toxic, and excessive consumption can fatally poison. Discourage dangerous drinking that can happen through participation in drinking games, hazing, or in other similar activities.
- Encourage your student to intervene when friends are in trouble with alcohol.
- Tell your student to stand up for his or her right to a safe campus environment. Students who do not drink can be affected by the behavior of those who do. Students should discuss problems with the offender, or the residence hall staff.
- Understand the alcohol scene on campus and talk to your student about it. Students grossly exaggerate their peers' use of alcohol. They tend to drink up to what they perceive to be the norm.
- Avoid telling tales of drinking exploits from your own college years. Entertaining students with stories of drinking back in "the good old days" normalizes what, even then, was abnormal behavior.
- Encourage your student to volunteer in the community. Volunteerism not only structures free time but also provides students with ways to develop job-related skills and gain valuable experience.
- Make it clear that underage alcohol consumption and alcohol-impaired driving are against the law. And, if you drink, you should be a positive role model in the responsible use of alcohol.
During the Conversation
- Be prepared to establish an ongoing conversation, not a one-time speech.
- Evaluate and be willing to articulate your own feelings about alcohol and other drug use.
- Be prepared to initiate the discussion.
- Avoid contradictions between your words and your actions.
- Speak with other parents of college students who have learned by experience.
- Exchange information face-to-face rather than over the telephone.
- Look for and create "teachable moments," such as television news or newspapers that deal with substance use
- Don't try to talk while he or she is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Wait until they are sober.
- Make sure you are calm and open. You do not need to exaggerate, because the facts speak for themselves.
- Listen actively and try to understand your student's point of view.
- Allow your son or daughter to express fears and concerns without your interruption or "preaching." - Role-play or use anecdotal scenarios. Identify potential situations your student may encounter in college.
Content in this section developed by the Alcohol and Other Drugs program at the University of Colorado Boulder