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In college, probably for the first time, your student will be wholly responsible for taking care of their own physical and emotional well-being.
For that reason, the most important health conversations you can have with them are ones where you encourage them to make wellness a priority in their daily lives, to familiarize themselves with health support resources on campus, and to always feel comfortable reaching out to you when they have a concern or just need a little advice.
Revisit health-related topics each and every time you talk with your student!
Go over their coverage (whether they’re on the school’s health plan or still covered by your family insurance) and how and where to access services. Will they use the campus health center for all their needs, or go there just for the easy/free stuff (flu shots, treatment for minor illnesses) and see a provider or specialist in the local community?
They’ll receive a lot of information at orientation and during move-in, but it can be overwhelming. Look at the website so you can nudge them to explore what’s offered at the student health clinic and counseling/mental health center. Your student will find online informational materials, workshops, and drop‐in support groups related to pretty much every wellness issue under the sun:
Don’t forget about religious and spiritual life opportunities as well as fitness classes at the campus rec center.
Your student should have a first aid kit with a thermometer and basic over-the-counter remedies as well as a supply of rapid COVID-19 test kits. Talk through possible scenarios, ranging from treating a cold to how to know if it’s something more serious like COVID or the flu. Remind them that if symptoms (sore throat, fever, vomiting, headache, etc.) linger for days without improvement, they should visit the campus health center — they don’t have to suffer in silence if they just want to get checked out.
Since colleges are bound by a federal law called FERPA which governs the privacy of student educational and treatment records, you won’t know if or when your student visits campus health and counseling clinics. It’s up to your student to decide whether to share information with you, which is something else the two of you can discuss early on.
The pandemic will likely wax and wane as new variants emerge and cooler weather sends people back indoors. Staying current with vaccinations and boosters will be essential. The university will communicate any changes to campus rules regarding mask requirements, in-person vs. online gatherings, and more.
Most families have strict rules about drinking in high school, but in college, an abstinence-only policy may not be practical. National surveys show that 9 out of 10 college students experiment with alcohol, 7 out of 10 drink regularly, and 3 out of 10 will be problem drinkers.
This doesn’t mean you should feel helpless. By talking regularly with your student about the campus party scene, their experiences with alcohol, and what it means to drink responsibly, you can continue to have a positive influence.
Education isn’t the same as endorsing underage drinking. Instead, when you teach your student about how alcohol works in the body, the importance of protecting their cup and sticking with friends at parties, and how to recognize when it’s time to exit a situation or call for help, you emphasize health, safety, and self-advocacy.
These conversations require that you know your facts, be honest and open‐minded, and most of all, be ready to listen. For more, read How to Talk To Your Student About Responsible Drinking.