Healthy Kids: Preparing your teen for college life

The University of Oregon class of 2016 proudly walked to Matthew Knight arena for the 2016 commencement ceremony Monday morning. Undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students listened to speeches from UO President Michael Schill and student speakers. The commencement address was delivered by Kent Alterman, president of Comedy Central. (Photo by Amanda Butt)

More than 15 million students in the U.S. will head to public and private colleges this fall. For many of them, it will be their first time away from home. If your teen is college-bound, summer is the perfect time to prepare your child for college life.

"A really important conversation to have with your teen is, 'Hey, you're driving the bus. This is going to be your experience both in and out of the classroom,'" says Erika Swanson, director of Parent and Family Programs at the University of Oregon.

Swanson helps prepare students and families for the transition to college, which requires them to be much more self-reliant.

"Your instructors or your teachers are no longer going to be the ones directing your learning. It's going to be you," Swanson says.

Your child's health

Dr. Pilar Bradshaw encourages parents to ensure their teen is up to date on his or her immunizations, including the meningococcal B vaccine. Meningococcal disease can be deadly, and it's easy for infections to spread in crowded dorms or in enclosed areas where students gather.

"It used to be that the meningococcal B vaccine was only recommended for college students in Oregon and Texas because of the prevalence of the bacteria in those areas, but the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends the vaccine be given to every college student across the country," she says.

Dr. Bradshaw also strongly encourages students to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, which can cause cervical cancer, as well as other types of cancer.

"Three quarters of kids on college campuses have HPV. It's the No. 1 cancer killer of young women in their 20s and 30s in the U.S. Please vaccinate your sons and daughters against HPV before they go to college," Dr. Bradshaw says.

Other topics to discuss:

  • Safety - Talk with your child about safety and encourage your student to be aware of their surroundings. Both parents and students should take time before classes begin to become familiar with the campus' safety resources and procedures.
  • Budget - Help your student set a budget and discuss the importance of sticking to that budget. Talk about how credit cards really work, and what the true cost can be of taking on debt at such a young age.
  • Responsibility - Juggling college calendars can be overwhelming for many freshmen, so talk with your student about time management and set expectations, from academics to social behaviors, like drinking.

"Don't be permissive. There's a lot of data that shows if you are matter of factyes, the legal drinking age is 21 and that is what we expect of youyour kid is much less likely to become involved with alcohol," says Dr. Bradshaw.

Be sure to talk with your child about how to build a new support system. Colleges say it's the No. 1 challenge students face outside the classroom.

"If something were to happen with your student, do they know who to turn to? And that doesn't necessarily mean you. They really should be diversifying their support system," Swanson says.

Jesse Summers remembers the day he first set foot on the University of Oregon campus as a freshman. It was eye-opening.

"I had gone to a really small high school, so showing up on move-in day and seeing 400 other students moving into the buildingit was a little overwhelming," he says.

"Right off the bat, you're out of your comfort zone and you're meeting new people. But everyone is kind of in the same boateveryone just wants to make friends."

Jesse spent three years as a resident assistant in the dorms, helping other freshmen adjust to life on campus. Now a senior, he says the conversation he had with his parents before arriving at college helped prepare him for success.

"I realized that I could handle being on my own, and I think I found a lot more confidence in being my own person."

Resources are available

Most colleges and universities have orientation programs for both students and parents to prepare them for the transition from high school to college. Taking advantage of your school's programs will help you and your student feel more comfortable about what's to come.

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