Q: My 18-year-old goes to college in the fall. She has never been around alcohol. We do not drink at home and none of her high school friends drank. I’m worried she’s in for a rude awakening. Is there anything we can do to prepare her?
A: If your daughter attended high school, participated in extra curricular activities, and had any kind of social life, then she has been around alcohol. Plenty of it. And drugs. And sex. And frankly, because you are suggesting you are not aware of this, you might be the one in for a rude awakening.
Your child has done a remarkable job of building a network of like-minded peers who supported one another in abstinence. Finding a similar peer group in college should be what you will encourage. There are kids who stay away from all forms of trouble in college. But, the truth is, this will not insulate your daughter from what goes on everywhere on college campuses today.
So, the time has come for lots of conversation about the reality of today’s college experience. Gone are the days when we can preach a simple stay-away-from-it-all message. Today, by middle school our children are immersed in the culture of substance use and often, openly exposed to it. While you and I were able to stay away from it by keeping our distance from “the drinkers” and “the heads,” drug and alcohol use is so pervasive in our adolescents’ world, they must adapt to coexisting with it. Learning to successfully coexist with anything that challenges our social and emotional well-being requires thorough examination of our attitudes and a concrete plan.
You should schedule a few meetings with your daughter. Let her know what this is about so she can prepare for it. The script might sound like this: ”I think you, Dad, and I are all in for some real shockers next year. We are not going to lecture. We want to collaborate with you. Let’s talk about some of the stuff you’re going to run into that will challenge you in a way you’ve not experienced. We want to talk about our opinions regarding the moral dilemmas you will face. But we want to hear your opinions. And we want to help you develop a plan you can live with that will help you make good decisions under pressure.”
Your daughter will most likely say she already knows a great deal and managed well in high school, thank you. When she does, remind her that living at home enables a teen to have a place where she can safely close the door on all the yuck. But in college, she will be living in it, all day, every day. Shutting it out will not be so easy. Finally, remind your daughter that people often have plans – daily plans, meal and exercise plans, study plans. Developing a plan for this will help her stay on course for success.
These meetings should not become lectures. They should be a collaboration and a golden opportunity for you to learn more about your daughter’s beliefs. They are about discussing awkward situations: So half the floor converges on your room to play beer pong. What’s your plan? Or, You’ve met the guy of your dreams, but he smokes pot. Is this a deal breaker for you?
These meetings are also about demonstrating to your child that she can tell you the truth, no matter what – because you can handle the truth. This is important because her world is about to shift in a big way, and believe me, you want her
to be able to tell you all about it.