Although your student may be away from home now, you can still encourage him or her to make healthy and responsible choices around alcohol and drugs.
Talking with your student about alcohol is not as difficult as you may think. Try using a non-judgmental tone to ask questions to help your student reflect on his or her choices. For example, “What’s your plan for getting to and from the party?” versus “Make sure you have a designated driver.” Or “What happens to students if they are caught drinking?” versus “You know you will get into a lot of trouble if you are caught.” You may find that your student is more receptive to engaging in this type of conversation when using this approach.
As you may have experienced, “lectures” tend to shut down communication with your student. Use open-ended questions that help your student think and problem-solve out loud about how they plan to handle situations regarding alcohol at college.
Some conversation-starters include:
• Ask your student about his or her plans for free time and express curiosity about other events happening on campus and in the surrounding areas. Refer your student to departments like Mason Recreation and Student Involvement and lists of events like Get Connected and Today at Mason. View more ideas and resources: ssac.gmu.edu/alcohol-tobacco-and-other-drugs/drinking-at-mason/sober-fun
• If your student is considering being present at off-campus parties, share tips on safer transportation options. Learn more: ssac.gmu.edu/alcohol-tobacco-and-other-drugs/drinking-at-mason/sober-rides
• Talk about the concept of “consent” (what it is, why you need it and how you get it), regardless of your student’s gender
• Encourage your student to review websites of various campus resources for suggestions and services. Start here: ulife.gmu.edu/about-us/offices-of-university-life
While most students drink responsibly, high-risk drinking is an alarming problem on college campuses. Parents and family members can help especially during those critical first weeks. Here are some resources with information and talking points for starting a family discussion about college drinking:
• Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility’s “Parents, You’re Not Done Yet”
• National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s “Fall Semester – A Time for Parents to Revisit Discussions About College Drinking”
Other ideas to consider:
• Encourage your student to research the impact of alcohol on the body and one’s overall wellbeing.
• Acknowledge your student’s rights and responsibilities to make decisions and also point out the consequences associated with those decisions (including family, university, financial and legal consequences)
• Inform your student of any family history of substance abuse and, if so, the associated risk for developing substance-related problems.
• Ask your student about his or her goals and suggest he or she reflect on how choices can impact those goals.
• Be selective about sharing your own past substance use. The “wild and crazy” stories tend to glamorize drinking and may end up encouraging your student to continue the “family tradition” of partying hard.
• If you have a concern, let your student know explicitly and directly, “I am concerned about your alcohol and/or drug use.” You can also encourage your student to consult a health professional and/or campus resources like the Student Support and Advocacy Center and Student Health Services to discuss further.
We encourage you to talk with your student about healthy relationships, drug and alcohol use, and sexual health. For more information on resources provided to students and families, visit ssac.gmu.edu or contact the Student Support and Advocacy Center at (703) 993-3686.
John Cicchetti and Kathryn Walker
Student Support and Advocacy Center