Most parents will have spoken to their children about drug and alcohol use many years before they reach adulthood and prepare to leave home. If your child is about to enter college and you have not yet spoken to him or her about substance use on campuses, it may seem too late to broach the topic. However, while you may need to address the issue in a different way that you would have when your child was younger, it is never too late to raise the subject and have an open discussion.
Shaking Existing Attitudes
Parents who have not previously spoken to their young adults about substance use may believe that their offspring’s ideas or behaviors concerning substance abuse are too established to be significantly influenced. However, both young adults and older adults often have significant gaps in their knowledge of substance abuse, and often have misconceptions about the prevalence of substance use on college and university campuses.
One of the most effective ways in which parents can influence a freshman’s substance-related behaviors is to debunk the myth that heavy drinking is universal on college campuses. In fact, while this belief is nearly universal, the drinking is not. On the majority of college campuses, as many as 60 percent of students drink very little alcohol or do not drink at all.
New freshmen may resort to drinking in social situations in the mistaken belief that there are very few social opportunities where alcohol is not present. Armed with the knowledge that there are plenty of students on most campuses who do not use alcohol, students may be more encouraged to seek groups and activities right away where they will not be pressured into drinking.
Many newly minted college freshmen already know quite a lot about substance use effects, trends, dangers, and the like. They almost certainly received some form of drug and alcohol education in school, and may have second-hand experience of substance use among their friends or other peers.
As a result, asking students to share their knowledge about drugs and alcohol in addition to telling them what you know may be more effective than simply lecturing. It may even be informative, since current young adults may have their own insights into peer pressure, as well as current substance trends and attitudes. Even if your student has little to no experience with drugs or alcohol, acknowledging his or her life experience can help your student to open up and to be more receptive to the information that you have to share.
Be Well Informed
The likelihood that new college freshmen are already somewhat substance-savvy as the result of education or experience makes it more likely that they will recognize when you are feeding them incomplete, outdated, or simply false information. Few things will more probably damage your student’s inclination to respect your concerns and share his own thoughts and concerns that giving him information that he already knows or believes to be untrue.
Substance-related scare tactics that exaggerate or disguise the truth are very often ineffective methods of discouraging drug and alcohol use. This is largely because false information, especially in this day and age of ubiquitous Internet connectivity, is so easily discredited. When specific information is disproved, it is easy for an entire point of view—such as the point of view that drug and alcohol use can have serious consequences—to seem entirely spurious.
Expectations Over Rules
When talking to a college freshman about college life in general, it is important to recognize that parents cannot exert the same degree of supervision over students as when the students were under the parents’ own roofs. Curfews, designated study times, and other schedule restrictions are nearly impossible to enforce once students are living on campus. Other rules concerning behavior can be equally impossible to oversee.
However, the challenges of enforcing behavioral guidelines for students living away from home does not mean that parents cannot and should not take an active interest in the way that their students behave at college. Many parents provide the funding for their offspring’s higher education, and have the right, and perhaps to a certain extent the obligation, to expect certain outcomes.
Outlining certain expectations for a student’s performance can be a more effective method of ensuring positive behavior than explicitly demanding that behavior. Having firm expectations for grades or other achievements can influence student behaviors when it comes to things like substance use. Studies have shown that varying degrees of alcohol consumption, from no drinking to heavy drinking, greatly influence students’ academic performance.