Having the College Safety Talk
6 critical things to tell your college freshman
College is a time of amazing adventure, learning and freedom. But your son or daughter will also face a brand new set of potential dangers, and that almost-adult of yours will need to know how to prepare for them.
Just as you won’t be there to ask, “Did you brush your teeth?” or say, “Drive safely,” you won’t be there for the first fraternity party or late-night study session where someone is passing around stimulants to help everybody stay awake.
Related: Preventing Sexual Assault at College
So while you’re thinking about the new sheets and comforter your freshman needs, how to fit everything (including the mini-fridge) in the car and when the first tuition check is due, also plan to spend some time talking about safety.
Here, according to child and teen psychologists and college safety researchers, are some of the main points to drive home.
1. Be aware of “Red Zone” dangers
Between the start of freshman year and Thanksgiving, the risk of sexual assault is so high for young women that some college administrators call that period “The Red Zone.” Suggest your child avoid drinking at campus or frat parties and arrive and leave parties with a buddy.
2. Avoid binge drinking
More than 40 percent of all college students engage in binge drinking (downing five drinks or more at a time if you’re male, or four or more drinks at a time if you’re female).
That’s bad news, because students who binge drink “are more likely to have unprotected sex, take physical risks, sexually assault someone (or be assaulted) and have mental health and academic problems,” says Jennifer Livingston, PhD, a senior research scientist in educational psychology at the Buffalo campus of the State University of New York. Livingston has done extensive research on college drinking.
So have a talk about drinking: that it’s better not to drink at all, but if you do, don’t overdo it. Stick to no more than one or two at any occasion (wait an hour between each drink and have a full glass of water in the meantime). Never leave your drink out of sight, because someone could slip a drug in it that could knock you out.
It doesn’t hurt to remind them that it’s illegal for students under 21 to drink.
You’ll want to talk about how to use good judgment around people who have been drinking — for instance, never getting into a car without someone who’s been drinking, even if you have to call a cab. You might also mention the signs of alcohol poisoning — including slow or irregular breathing, pale or bluish skin and passing out — so your child can get help for a friend if necessary.
3. Have a buddy close by, especially on dates
Alan Reifman, PhD, professor of human development and family studies at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, says when it comes to women and sexual assault, having a buddy around can significantly reduce the possibility of attacks. He encourages parents to work in conversations the wisdom of always having a buddy with you or nearby when you go out. “If a woman is going to ‘hook up,’ he says, “it is much better to make sure a friend is next door or even in the same apartment.”
“In high school you are less likely to be teased if you walk to classes with a friend; the same thing goes on in college,” says Greenberg. “Tell your child, ‘Think of your community of friends as part of your safety network.’”
4. Practice safe sex
You have probably already had “the talk” when your child was in high school, but remind your both your son and daughter to take precautions in college. Condoms and dental dams will help protect them from STDs (and your son from getting someone pregnant accidentally). And aside from abstinence, the diaphragm and cervical cap, when used correctly, are the safest forms of birth control (that is, they have fewer side effects than hormonal contraceptives), according to UpToDate, the evidence-based clinical support resource for doctors.
Beware being “friends with benefits.” “I like to remind young adults to be careful with this…One person is very likely to get emotionally involved, even though they don’t intend to,” says Greenberg. Besides inadvertently hurting someone, young people may also be stalked by a desperate ex-lover, she says.
5. Walk in a group at night
College campuses can be dark and poorly lit at night, so suggest your child ward off robberies and assaults by walking with a group of other students to the library, study hall and dining room after dark. Some universities also offer “safe ride” programs that deliver students from campus to their homes late at night. Remind kids that “it’s your responsibility to take care of each other,” says Greenberg.
Related: 10 Ways to Avoid Getting Mugged
6. Be aware of prescription drug hazards
Colleges are reporting a rise in prescription drug abuse, with one in five students reporting abuse of a prescription stimulant, according to a 2014 report from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Many students report misusing “exam week” drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, which they often obtain from students with a prescription. Greenberg suggests saying, ‘Don’t share your meds with each other; you don’t know how others are going to react to them. If you do have ADD, you also don’t want to be a target for theft. If you have Ritalin or Adderall, keep it locked in a small safe or a hollowed-out book.”
Have a frank discussion with your child about the dangers of these drugs (or encourage your doctor to do so).
Above all, let your young scholar know that you’re always ready to talk and help if he has any problems with drugs — or anything else.