Parents' role vital in curbing drinking among college freshmen
Parents do a lot to prepare their children for college. From keeping their nose to the grind during the high school years to helping lug that futon up two flights of stairs on moving day, parental support is important to a student's success in post-secondary education.
But when it comes to avoiding the perils of underage and binge drinking, not all of mom and dad's advice is helpful.
Experts say the best strategy is for parents to talk openly with their child about drinking, while not glorifying their own past experiences.
"Be a resource and talk with them about your expectations," said Keven Syverson, health education coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Syverson said parents should set clear guidelines for their children before sending them away to college, even if the they abused alcohol during their own college days.
"You have to be careful you're not lecturing," Syverson said, acknowledging that talking about college drinking can be difficult for parents without sounding hypocritical.
He suggested parents stay open and truthful while pointing out specific impacts or missed opportunities brought on by excessive drinking.
"Parents can talk more realistically if they draw on past experiences," he said.
Syverson also suggested making it a two-way conversation by asking students about the concerns they have about alcohol use.
First weeks crucial
Delivering a clear message about the impact of drinking is particularly important for freshmen, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
With a taste of independence and more free time compared to high school, many new college students begin heavy drinking in the first six weeks of the fall semester.
The NIAAA warns that binge drinking can hinder the transition to living on campus during that crucial first semester.
Many universities address this concern by including education about alcohol use during freshman orientation.
At UW-RF, new students are required to listen to a presentation on being smart about alcohol consumption, as well as the safety and legal ramifications of underage drinking.
Starting around 10 years ago, UW-RF also began mailing letters to both students and parents stating the university's expectations about student drinking and provides a list of groups and organizations to keep freshman active and engaged.
Alcohol education for freshmen is part of an ongoing effort to reduce underage and binge drinking among college students, and so far it seems to be working.
Although it remains one of the major health concerns on campus, binge drinking rates have been dropping at UWRF for the past 12 years, Syverson said.
Just under 64 percent of UWRF students reported drinking alcohol within 30 days of a 2012 American College Health Association survey.
Estimates nationwide show roughly 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, according to the National Institutes of Health. Of the students who drink, about half also participate in binge drinking.
Beyond an immediate impact to academics, Syverson said alcohol use by college students also raises safety concerns due to impaired decision making.
As many as 599,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 are injured while under the influence of alcohol each year, and 1,825 die as a result of those injuries, according to 2009 data reported by the NIH.
Alcohol use also is cited in almost 700,000 assault and 97,000 sexual abuse cases involving college students yearly.
In recent years, universities and health officials have touted the need for a more comprehensive approach to curb excessive drinking by college students, including involvement by community members and local businesses.
But parents remain one of the most important influences on college students, and can even outweigh peer pressure, said Marjorie Savage, the director of the University of Minnesota's Parent Program.
Savage suggested parents of college students shift from high school messages about drinking and driving or making sure a parent is around to practical advice on staying safe while out partying with friends in unfamiliar places.
The University of Minnesota offers a free online seminar for parents to learn how to transition their children into college life, including preparing them for the consequences of underage and binge drinking.
The seminar can be viewed at http://www.cehd.umn.edu/fsos/projects/alcohol.
More information and tips for parents can also be found at http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/.
Talking to your kid
The University of Wisconsin-Extension offers the following tips for parents to help prepare students to deal with the pressure to drink in college.
• Talk, don't lecture. Tell your child you want them to have fun but also to be safe.
• Listen to your child's concerns without passing judgment and without giving advice.
• Be aware that your child will experience the most pressure related to drinking in the first six weeks of school. Call, text and email frequently during that time.
• Know and respect the law. Understand the penalties for underage drinking and share them with your son or daughter.
• Moderate or infrequent drinking is the "true norm." Let your student know that the majority of college students do not abuse alcohol.
• Take advantage of campus resources. Encourage students to use the services and resources offered by the university.
• Inquire about and make certain you understand the college's parental notification policy.
• Learn about your child's roommates.
• Allow your child to make up an excuse if it helps them resist peer pressure to drink. For example, a student may explain his wish not to drink by saying, "I drank so much in high school, I'm going to experiment with what it's like to study sober." This can help your child save face if needed.
• Let your student know that you will not pay tens of thousands of dollars to fund a four-year party. It is important to reiterate the reasons for attending college. Let your child know that you have expectations and what those expectations are.