Have You Had the (College) Talk?

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Spectrum Health Experts recommend revisiting safe & healthy social habits.

College can be a fun learning time, both in and out of the classroom. The excitement of being on their own for the first time can get unprepared students into trouble.

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Many parents have the infamous “sex talk” with their children when they are adolescents, as their bodies begin to mature and change, along with their emotions.

If you are sending a son or daughter off to college this fall, it might be time to talk again.

Experts at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, a member of Spectrum Health, recommend that families check in with their college-age children to make sure they are prepared for the increased social pressure – and dangerous opportunities – that come with freedom from daily parental oversight.

“College can be a fun learning time, both in and out of the classroom. Parents sending kids off to college want to assume that their 18-year-old knows enough about sex and peer pressure to be safe and prepared in new social situations,” said Eugene Shatz, MD, adolescent medicine, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Spectrum Health Medical Group. “The excitement of being on their own for the first time can get unprepared students into trouble.”

There can be a high price in terms of health and safety for those lapses in judgment, particularly when alcohol is involved.

Dr. Shatz recommends that parents:

  •     Be blunt about drinking and drugs. Most college students, of legal age or not, will partake to some degree. Does your child know what to do when he or she is faced with social pressure to “party” when there are risks – physical, legal, social - involved?
  •     Be blunt about sex. Make sure your child understands the potential consequences – physical and emotional - and responsibilities.
  •     Make sure your child is aware and equipped to access health care on campus or nearby. If they run into a health situation that they don’t want you to know about, they need to be able to get help on their own.
  •     Talk about who your child is and who they want to be. A great college experience is about making wise choices. It doesn’t require morphing into a “wild child” who will take risks that could have lifelong consequences.

Shatz has other suggestions for concerned parents:

  •     Connect with the parents of your child’s roommates. Stay in touch so that everyone is aware of how things are going at school.
  •     Keep track of your child’s class and work schedule. Knowing where your child should be is important. Mobile applications like Google Latitude let you check your child’s location in real time – if you can get your child to agree to participate.
  •     Consider becoming a social media stalker. If your child won’t Facebook “friend” you or connect on Twitter, maybe his or her friends will. Paying attention to the social media conversation will help you know if you need to step in to a situation.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is also concerned about the health dangers of college. It offers free “Health-e-Cards” on its website that parents can send to students who are away at school. The CDC website also features health and safety tips directly aimed at college students.

Dr. Shatz says that another great resource is a brochure produced by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine which offers conversation starters for parents who want to make sure their children are aware and prepared.

“It’s not easy to talk to older kids who think they know it all already but it could turn out to be the most important thing a parent does to keep their child safe at school.”

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan offering a full continuum of care through the Spectrum Health Hospital Group, which is comprised of nine hospitals including Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, a state of the art children’s hospital that opened in January 2011, and 190 service sites; the Spectrum Health Medical Group and West Michigan Heart, physician groups totaling more than 700 providers; and Priority Health, a health plan with 600,000 members. Spectrum Health is West Michigan’s largest employer with more than 18,000 employees. The organization provided $176.5 million in community benefit during its 2011 fiscal year.

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Susan Krieger
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