Messages to our Children as they Leave for College

College campus

By Laura Keys, LCSW, Courier & Press, July 12, 2016 –

Last week I took my oldest child to freshman orientation at Indiana University. During one of the parent sessions, they asked us to write a letter to be mailed to our child’s dorm a few weeks after classes begin.

The idea is to give the students a boost a few weeks into the school year, but I think the real reason for the exercise is to help parents start the process of letting go.

As parents, we do need to prepare ourselves for our children leaving the nest, but we also need to prepare our children to fly safely.

The statistics around campus violence are a bit scary. What might be even scarier is that our kids don’t understand a lot of the dangers.

Many experts say that if a student is going to be victimized it will most likely be in their first semester. For that reason, the first six weeks of college is known as “The Red Zone.”

To help both student and parent prepare for this crucial time, a face-to-face discussion on safety needs to happen before departure. Below are some tips and talking points.

Students should always be aware of their surroundings. They shouldn’t walk alone with ear buds. They shouldn’t walk alone at night. Most campuses have many safety options, including free rides on and off campus 24 hours a day as well as strategically placed emergency phones. Let your child know they should not be afraid to use these resources.

Strangers are often not the danger. Most sexual assault victims on campus know their attacker. Stress the importance of getting to know people before placing yourself in a vulnerable situation. It is impossible to really know someone after two dates and going for “nice” over “cool” can’t be emphasized enough.

Be on guard at parties. It’s not enough to tell college students not to go to parties, drink or do drugs. Parents will not be there to enforce the rules, so we need to have a more realistic conversation about the consequences of partaking. They should always monitor their drink and never drink from a common or shared container. Help them understand their judgment is impaired when they are under the influence, and they are less able to defend themselves. In case they get into a dangerous situation, tell them to keep their phone charged and money or a credit card on them at all times.

It’s important to cultivate great friendships. Stress investing in friends that will have your child’s back. The buddy system is the single best safety measure your child has throughout their college career. It’s another set of eyes on your child, and it’s another set of brains to give input when sticky situations arise.

Teach them to trust their gut. If a situation seems scary, it is. If they feel like they shouldn’t be somewhere, they probably shouldn’t. Instinct is one of the few remnants in our DNA from the portion of human history when we were a part of the food chain. Urge them to trust their gut; it’s a biological measure of safety.

If they are listening, all of these points will help improve your child’s security. But the most important thing to say to your child as they leave the nest is that you will always be there if anything bad or good happens. They should never be afraid to call.