1-800-343-9272 822 E. 41st St., Ste. 235 | Sioux Falls, SD 57105

Keep Talking to your College-Age Teens about Alcohol

While students tell their parents they have a Friday night date with their anthropology research paper in the library, or they’re planning a movie marathon with roommates, don’t assume it’s not crucial to talk to them about the dangers of binge drinking and responsible partying.

The truth is, preparing teens for college requires more than solid academics. A recent poll of college students sponsored by the Partnership of Drug-Free Kids and the Jordan Porco Foundation got students commenting about emotional readiness and suggests that pressure can affect their behavior in negative ways.

  • Students who are emotionally unprepared for college have lower grades, are more likely to use drugs and alcohol and are more likely to consider transferring to a different school, compared with peers who are more emotionally prepared.
  • Students who reported regularly consuming drugs or alcohol during their first term were more likely than non-regular drug and alcohol users to rate their emotional health worse than their peers and experience negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. They were also more likely to say they had trouble getting the emotional support they needed during their first college term, and expressed a greater desire for help with emotional preparation for college.
  • Eighty-seven percent of students said that college preparation during high school focused more on academics than emotional readiness, and 50 percent said their independent living skills need improvement for college readiness. The poll found 50 percent felt a great deal of pressure to attend a well-known college, and 52 percent said high schools place a greater emphasis on college prestige than “fit.”

These findings about drug and alcohol use are important, because they indicate students who are drinking and using drugs during their transition may be doing so because they are in distress.

One way parents can help their college students is to encourage them to select a school with the best fit in terms of emotional well-being, instead of focusing on a school’s prestige. Parents should also teach their teens coping skills such as managing their money and time, eating healthy, exercising, and by talking about the social and emotional side of college, such as how to deal with roommate conflict and loneliness, which can be a normal part of the transition to college.

The following are some talking points that can help college parents talk to their kids about drinking and drug use and to provide the emotional support that is so important.

Parents can help

To stay involved during this critical time, parents should

  • Inquire about campus alcohol policies.
  • Call sons and daughters frequently.
  • Ask about roommates and living arrangements.
  • Talk about risks.
    • Penalties for underage drinking
    • Date rape, violence and academic failure associated with alcohol use

The most effective deterrent to alcohol and drug use isn’t the police, prisons or politicians – it’s YOU.

For older adolescents who stay closer to home after high school, the issues may be even more complicated. The risks of underage drinking are the same, and although you may be present in their lives, they may be reluctant to listen. They may resent parents or other adults for trying to tell them how to behave. To succeed in these conversations, you need to ask for their opinions. Lecturing won’t work. Instead, help them figure out their own ways to avoid illegal and unsafe behavior.

The risk of leaving them to their own devices on this is too great. Most are driving, so the frequency of alcohol-related car crashes increases. The alcohol-involved fatality rate is twice as high among adolescents as among adult drivers. This may have to do with teens’ low tolerance, their relative inexperience with driving, or both. This is why most states today have zero-tolerance laws for adolescent drinking and driving. Share those facts with older children.