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The facts are shocking and unexpected for parents of many teens. Freshman college students start drinking heavily immediately after arriving on campus, according to a review of research published by the National Institutes of Health. In addition, first-year college students account for one-third of campus deaths, even though they comprise only one-quarter of the student body and most of those deaths are alcohol-related in some way.  Freshman also commit more acts of violence and vandalism and are more likely to land in the emergency room than older students, again largely because of their drinking behavior.

So, if your teen is heading off to college this fall, how can you insulate him from these dangers? What can you do to help your teen stay sober?

Most freshman drinking is done on the weekends early in the term, at social gatherings. While college men drink more than college women, both men and women tend to binge drink at parties where alcohol is the centerpiece. Binge drinking – downing many ounces of alcohol in a short period of time – puts students at risk for alcohol poisoning.  Drinking games are an important part of the college social scene, particularly for younger students.

An interesting finding is that while kids who are not college-bound drink more in high school than do kids who are college-bound, once in college the opposite is true. College freshman drink more than high school grads who didn’t go to college.

Another key finding is the fact that freshman students who pledge to a fraternity or sorority are much more likely to abuse alcohol than are freshman who are not involved. Pledge-week activities and initiation rituals tend to include drinking; the drive to be accepted in these clubs inclines students to over-consume. This is especially true of fraternities and freshmen men.

Religion only marginally affected a student’s drinking. While students with a strong religious background were less likely to drink heavily, this effect disappeared under strong peer pressure or when a student joined a fraternity or sorority. The need to be accepted as part of the group overrode religious teachings for many students.

What can you do? The research compiled in this review study point to solid, supportive parent-child relationships, especially between fathers and sons, as having a dampening effect on student alcohol use. In contrast, students who reported that their parents, and especially their mothers, were okay with their drinking got into trouble with alcohol more often and more severely. This means:

One of the most important findings from this research is this: clear limits on drinking set by parents and parents’ lack of permissiveness about alcohol reduced the influence of peers, even when teens were away at school. Instead of sending your teen off to college without discussing alcohol use, take the time to talk things through. Making your expectations clear may keep your kid healthy and out of trouble.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

One in five adolescent girls and one in eight adolescent boys were found to be victims of dating violence severe enough to prompt emergency medical care in a new study, the largest of its kind, conducted by the University of Michigan Medical School.

Over 4,000 teens between 14 and 20 were asked about injuries they suffered that prompted an emergency room visit. The resulting level of dating violence is startling, especially when one considers that many incidents go unreported or are not severe enough to prompt immediate medical attention.

Teens of both sexes reported being punched, shoved, having hair pulled or being hit by thrown objects. Altogether, one in six teens experienced dating violence.

As you might expect, several factors were associated with dating violence, including use of drugs or alcohol. These factors affected victims and perpetrators of both sexes.

As the parent of a teen, what can you do to ensure your child won’t get into trouble on a date?

  1. Be aware of the temptations of alcohol or drugs. As you might expect, being under the influence of substances was a major factor in emergency room visits for dating violence. Almost every teen these days is confronted with pressure to drink and drugs are commonplace in every neighborhood. While you cannot keep your child away from these temptations, you can talk with your child about ways to deflect pressure to indulge.
  2. Encourage dating in groups, rather than in pairs. While certainly a group can apply pressure to do negative things, groups also apply pressure to stay positive. At the very least, dating in a group provides a teen with witnesses to what happened if anything does.
  3. Encourage dating in public spaces. Going to the mall, to the movies, or to another public venue where there are lots of people around and a police presence or security staff helps limit opportunities for dating violence. Being around other people has a limiting effect on expressions of anger.
  4. Be your child’s back-up. Make certain your child knows you will always come get him, from any place at any time, no questions asked.
  5. If your child has anger issues, get help. Violent behavior isn’t any more normal in teens than it is in adults. Don’t write off your child’s violent nature by saying it’s “just hormonal” or “just a phase.” Your kid – whether a boy or girl – is capable of inflicting real harm and of getting into real trouble. If you are ever afraid of your child or for your child, get help.

Realize that a date can go bad for any teen, and for more teens than you might have imagined. Negotiating relationships in adolescence is hard enough without feeling physically endangered.  So if your child hints that there is a problem, take it seriously.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.