What Parents Need to Know to Keep College Kids Healthy

By Elizabeth Berger

As I visited my Alma Mater last weekend to celebrate Homecoming, I imagined what it would be like to see my future kids on their own college campuses. While we have some time until that day comes, imagining them amidst the landscape of my own University gave me a glimpse at that future. I thought about classes they might take, clubs they could join, and the lifelong friends they are sure to make.

No matter what season of life your family is in, it’s never too early to start thinking of ways you can foster mental and physical health for your kids on campus. They’ll be college-bound before you know it!

Because college students are away from home, perhaps for the first time ever, their support system can be drastically affected. “When there is a big test, bad day or confusing situation, family members and old friends are not readily available for support and if they are, it’s through a telephone or computer rather than in person,” says Melissa Cohen, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Coach in New York City. Parents need to understand that this can be a difficult adjustment.

Moreover, the ways in which your student chooses to navigate issues as an individual can play a huge role in, not just how their time at college play out socially, but also the efficacy of their education. And these choices can range from how long to study for a test and what to eat in the dining hall to relationships and social pressures regarding alcohol and sex. “For students to be able to learn at their peak capacity, they need to be physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually well,” says Louise Douce, Ph.D., special assistant to the vice president of student life at Ohio State University. And as parents, we need to do our part.

Here are some ways we can pave the way for our college-bound children to make the most of their college educations and experiences:

  1. Make sure your child has a physical and up-to-date vaccinations and immunizations. Nearly all universities will require this medical information, especially if your child is living on campus in a dorm.
  2. Do a little research about the health services offered on your child’s campus. Talk with them about who to call/where to go and for what. (They could even take this time to program a few numbers in their cell phone!)
  3. If your child has any chronic conditions, ask their primary care physician to draw up a written medical history that you (or your child) can have on file in case of an emergency.
  4. Look over the details of your insurance coverage as it pertains to your child. Will they have access to providers in your network where they’re at? Are the on-campus medical providers covered?
  5. Your 18-year-old is no doubt familiar with their own daily prescriptions, allergies, and the headaches and colds that crop up now and again. But they may need a crash-course in some other, less frequent, medical issues. Help them to create a first-aid kit that they can bring with them. Explain the contents and their various applications. You could even sign them up for a first-aid class before they leave!
  6. Ask your child, “What’s your plan for prioritizing a healthy diet, exercise, and sleep?” and help them come up with an answer. Whether you need to explore the menu of your student’s dining hall or discuss the power of a thirty-minute power nap on days they have an eight-a.m. lecture, you can help direct them towards healthy habits.
  7. Make your new college student aware of the plethora of support they can expect to encounter once moved in. From academic tutoring if they’re struggling with a class to residential advisors if roommate problems crop up, as well as counselors who specialize in the mental health issues of young adults. Many students struggle with anxiety, stress, and depression in silence throughout their four years simply because they were unaware these support systems even existed.

As parents, you always want to keep your kids healthy, and sending them off to college can seem like a scary prospect. You can’t see them every day to make sure they’re ok. You must rely on the support of others.

You pray they make great choices and stay safe. A few thoughtful conversations can go a long way in making sure they do.

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