For most college students, these four years is the first time they’re truly on their own. Some risky behavior is to be expected, but if balanced with some core health and safety tips college can be a fruitful experience where a person discovers more about themselves. Parents often worry about their children off on their own, sometimes in another state or country. It’s important to start talking to teens throughout their senior year and prepare them for what to expect. In some cases, a parent can also secure a few necessary items in advance to help make the transition a little smoother for everyone.
Here are five important health and safety tips to pass onto college students before the big move into the dorms:
- Practice safe, consensual sex every time. For many parents, this might be a mantra (and hopefully a regular conversation) for their high schooler, too. However, there’s obviously a much higher risk of teens engaging in sexual behavior when they’re not living with their parents. Understanding how STIs are passed and pregnancy risks (if applicable) is paramount for a safe, healthy college experience. Understanding the tenets of consensual sex and the basic pillars, such as not having sex with a new person while they are inebriated, is also critical. Fortunately, most campuses of high-quality healthy clinics where exams, birth control, and full-panel STI screenings are applicable. Still, making sure your teen has adequate birth control as well as plenty of safe sex tools such as condoms and dental dams need to be part of the packing process.
- If students have a car, make sure the vehicle is maintained with an emergency kit. If your teen is taking a car and will be far from home, gone are the days when they can call a parent for help. Get a maintenance check for the car before they leave and make sure they understand when oil changes and future maintenance checks should be scheduled (often, this can be done during winter holidays and summer breaks if they’ll be returning). Knowing what to pack in the car, like emergency kits, jumper cables, and first-aid kits, is important. They should also have adequate roadside coverage.
- Make sure students know basic self-defense strategies. These are important for men and women. A self-defense class, pepper spray that fits on a keychain, and following best practices such as always going out in a trusted group will drastically increase their safety. Awareness and not drinking alone or with a new group of people can go a long way in avoiding fights and assaults.
- Get the nutrition and fitness basics down. Teens notoriously feel immortal, and that goes for their metabolism, too. Talking to teens about the importance of nutrition and taking care of their body can help them avoid irreversible damage. This includes an understanding of what whole foods are, avoiding too many processed foods, the reality of alcohol and drug abuse on the body, and how important it is to move are all conversations that should take place regularly. A parent can also model this good behavior. The so-called freshman fifteen is dangerous not because of aesthetics, but because it can lead to side effects such as malnutrition, diabetes, and heart disease if it continues post-college.
- Help your student make their dorm a refuge. Even if they have a roommate, feeling at home in their room is important for mental well-being and academic success. This can include talking about conflict resolution strategies with their roommate, knowing who to ask for help (often someone in the residence hall), and work with them to help make their room comfortable for a good night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene, such as avoiding technology close to the bed and ensuring the room can be as dark and quiet as possible (perhaps with a white noise machine) can be a great help.
Health and safety are foundational for everyone, but college students have often depended on a parent to guide them until this point. Everyone will enjoy more peace of mind by taking care of these five priorities before move-in day.