One of the most frightening aspects of being a college parent is the fear of the trouble that you son/daughter could get into on a college campus. Stories abound of college parties, risky stunts, mindless pranks, and other ways a young person can get into trouble. All of these are legitimate fears. I’ve had far too many experiences helping students get out of trouble.
There’s a part of a young person’s brain that deals with judgment and risk taking. For males this part of the brain develops slower than in females. This part of the brain doesn’t develop fully until the late teens. Many of our young college students have yet developed the risk taking judgment they need.
I do have some suggestions that may be helpful to you as you try to guide your student.
- Get to know your son or daughter’s friends. The biggest problem of students getting into trouble is related to peer pressure. Friends can be a very bad influence.
- Talk with your son/daughter about having someone who can be a “designated stupid protector”. Students are used to the designated driver concept. A designated stupid protector is someone who can keep them from getting into trouble.
- Keep a tight rein on your student’s financial resources. One of the worse things you can do is to provide too much money to your student.
- Work through situations with your student in anticipation of what they might experience. These case studies are of the variety: “What would you do if ……?” Often these discussions can provide guidance for when your student experiences similar situations.
- Discuss the consequences of doing something stupid. Often an arrest for underage consumption of alcohol or disorderly conduct can lead to denial of a job requiring a security clearance. A gathering of your friends on a porch rooftop on a warm spring night can lead to death or serious injury should the porch roof collapse – an all too frequent happening on campus.
- Visit your son or daughter’s Facebook site. In general, I think that students should have some right to privacy in college, but Facebook is there for others to see. Facebook postings can be a good early sign of changes your student might be going through.
- Don’t overreact should your student get into trouble. Such overreactions have the ultimate impact of shutting down future communications about situations your son/daughter may face.
It’s my experience that only 1%-2% of college students will get into trouble. But the students who do get into trouble are often those you would least expect to be in trouble. It seems that many of these students don’t know how to handle the independence of college because they were so tightly controlled at home in high school.
I hope this guidance is helpful. There are times when I am dismayed by the trouble that students get into.
Let me close with the story of Megan. Megan enjoyed college life – maybe a little too much. She was at a downtown bar and had a little too much to drink. She decided to walk home. Her friends wanted to stay so she left on her own.
As she was walking, a car driven by a drunk driver came on the side walk and struck her. She would have died on the spot were it not for another student who was a trained EMT who saw the accident.
Megan had to drop out for the semester. When she came back to college she needed help getting from one class to another. I worked with her to make it through the next semester. But my help wasn’t enough. Megan ultimately dropped out of college.
I’ve had regrets that I couldn’t have helped Megan more. I often wonder how Megan’s life would have been different had one of her friends been more supportive that night..