Talking With Your Student About Alcohol

Any parent who reads the newspaper or watches news on television has seen and heard tragic stories about the outcome of excessive drinking on campus. Parents are frightened by these stories and have every right to be.

As a resource, advisor and advocate for the more than 35 million households with parents of current and future college students throughout the United States, College Parents of America shares this concern. We advise parents to talk with their children about the impact of high-risk drinking on their lives and their responsibilities to themselves and as peers.

In cooperation with William DeJong, Director of the Higher Education Center, and Linda Devine, Assistant Dean of Student Life at the University of Oregon, College Parents of America has developed the following eight talking points to assist parents in talking with their students about alcohol.

  1. Set clear and realistic expectations regarding academic performance. Studies conducted nationally have demonstrated that partying may contribute as much to a student’s decline in grades as the difficulty of his or her academic work. If students know their parents expect sound academic work, they are likely to be more devoted to their studies and have less time to get in trouble with alcohol.
  2. Stress to students that alcohol is toxic and excessive consumption can fatally poison. This is not a scare tactic. The fact is students die every year from alcohol poisoning. Discourage dangerous drinking through participation in drinking games, fraternity hazing, or in any other way. Parents should ask their students to also have the courage to intervene when they see someone putting their life at risk through participation in dangerous drinking.
  3. Tell students to intervene when classmates are in trouble with alcohol. Nothing is more tragic than an unconscious student being left to die while others either fail to recognize that the student is in jeopardy or fail to call for help due to fear of getting the student in trouble.
  4. Tell students to stand up for their right to a safe academic environment. Students who do not drink can be affected by the behavior of those who do, ranging from interrupted study time to assault or unwanted sexual advances. Students can confront these problems directly by discussing them with the offender. If that fails, they should notify the housing director or other residence hall staff.
  5. Know the alcohol scene on campus and talk to students about it. Students grossly exaggerate the use of alcohol and other drugs by their peers. A recent survey found that University of Oregon students believed 96 percent of their peers drink alcohol at least once a week, when the actual rate was 52 percent. Students are highly influenced by peers and tend to drink up to what they perceive to be the norm. Confronting misperceptions about alcohol use is vital.
  6. Avoid tales of drinking exploits from your own college years. Entertaining students with stories of drinking back in “the good old days” normalizes what, even then, was abnormal behavior. It also appears to give parental approval to dangerous alcohol consumption.
  7. Encourage your student to volunteer in community work. In addition to structuring free time, volunteerism provides students with opportunities to develop job-related skills and to gain valuable experience. Helping others also gives students a broader outlook and a healthier perspective on the opportunities they enjoy. Volunteer work on campus helps students further connect with their school, increasing the likelihood of staying in college.
  8. Make it clear — Underage alcohol consumption and alcohol-impaired driving are against the law. Parents should make it clear that they do not condone breaking the law. Parents of college students should openly and clearly express disapproval of underage drinking and dangerous alcohol consumption. And, if parents themselves drink, they should present a positive role model in the responsible use of alcohol.

Talk with your student about alcohol. While parents may not be able to actively monitor students away from home, they can be available to talk and listen, and that is just as important. It can do more than help shape lives, it can save lives.

Reprinted with the permission of College Parents of America, 2000 N. 14th Street, Suite 800, Arlington, VA 22201-2540. Call toll-free 1-888-761-6702 for additional information or, visit our web site at www.collegeparents.org.

This guide is excerpted from an article by William DeJong, Director of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, and Linda Devine, Assistant Dean of Student Life at the University of Oregon. The original article appeared in The College Parent Advisor, published by College Parents of America.