Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfectly scripted conversation when it comes to college drinking. A lot of students will choose to drink alcohol at some point during their first year. That's the reality. It's how much they drink and how they value drinking that should be the focus of our attention. Talking about safe, legal and responsible decision-making around alcohol is a very good place to start. Being safe means being aware of all your options in order to confront risky situations in the best way possible. Drunk driving accidents, sexual assault, personal injury, physical violence and criminal behavior show us the ugly side of drinking on a college campus. It might seem extreme -- but it's real. I could share hundreds of stories with various outcomes. Encourage and support your student to remain confident in his or her ability to make good choices and to hold firm if pressured into something dangerous involving alcohol. Tell him you trust him. His safety, wellness and academic success may depend on it.
The legal aspects are clear. Alcohol consumption on a college campus is complicated by the basic fact that the legal drinking age is 21. That means an overwhelming majority of first-years living in a residence hall are underage for possession and consumption of alcohol. If you're not 21, the consequences of a choice to drink can be significant, both on campus and in the local court system. College and university alcohol policies are written clearly and tested regularly. Legality is the most well defined factor involved in decisions about drinking. Remind your student to choose thoughtfully and with an understanding of the possible consequences. Openly share your perspectives on how the family might handle a situation in which your student is documented by the college and/or police department for alcohol possession or intoxication. I know it's an uncomfortable topic. But as a former college dean, I can confirm that families who engaged in an open conversation about this possible scenario were well prepared when it did occur. Colleges want to partner with parents in support of a student accepting responsibility, learning and moving forward from a minor alcohol-related incident. The educational benefit is significant.
Talk with your student about their current beliefs, behavior and responsibilities with respect to alcohol. Keep an open mind, listen actively and encourage honest sharing. Try to not look surprised if she tells you that she's had a few drinks in high school. Think back on your own high school years when the legal age may have been 18 or 19. National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate around 35 percent of students drank some amount of alcohol in high school in 2013. Affirm that decisions about drinking should be made based on what is best or most comfortable for her, not on what others are doing. Ask him to consider his options and how the use of alcohol might affect coursework, personal relationships, activities, and the living environment in the residence hall. Also, remind him to respect another person's decision not to drink -- it's an individual choice that should never be subject to peer pressure. Socially, there are tons of things to do in college that don't focus on or involve alcohol. Talk with him about having fun and finding a healthy balance. And take a breath. This is a tough conversation. But you've raised a capable, responsible, and well-prepared adult in progress. Congratulations!