College is not just about books, dorm rooms and roommates. Other issues exist that should be thought about before your child goes to college.
College is a place with new freedoms and stresses. Prior to the start of college is the time to prepare your child for the different situations he/she may come across and the decisions that he/she may need to make.
During college, your child may be under a lot of stress with schoolwork, friends and a social life. He/she may feel alone and even sad. You and your child should know about the mental health services that are offered at your child's college that can assist with coping with the stresses of college. The counselors there are especially trained to assist college students with their particular issues. Usually these services are covered under the college or your insurance plan if not free.
Underage drinking and illegal drug use is also very common during college since for many teenagers, this is a time to try new things. This can put your child at risk for injuries, lack of sleep, poor grades, and poor decision-making. Also, while drinking and illegal drug use doesn’t cause sexual assault, alcohol and drug consumption is a common factor that facilitates sexual violence. You should discuss your wishes regarding their behavior and how your child will handle him/herself in situations where these activities are occurring. You and your child should be aware of college services for those teenagers who have issues with drugs and alcohol.
Romantic relationships and issues associated with it such as sexual intercourse and unhealthy relationships should not be forgotten. Your child will need to make key decisions regarding their sexuality and their personal relationships. Make sure your child knows what resources are available at college if he/she decides to become sexually active or is involved in an unhealthy relationship.
Finally, it is important to stress to your child that he/she can call you whenever help is needed. Even though you may be far away, you are always able to provide good advice.
Pay a visit to your child's physician before he/she leaves for college. Beside the ever important yearly physical examination which is needed for college and for college sports, checking to make sure that your child has the proper shots for school is equally essential. Most colleges recommend your child receive the meningococcal vaccine, especially if they are living in a dormitory. This is a new vaccine that prevents a bacterial infection of the fluid that covers the brain. Varicella (chicken pox) vaccine is also recommended if your child has not had the disease. Two shots are needed 1-2 months apart. Influenza vaccine is available in the fall and recommended for all college students living in a dormitory setting and those who have asthma or other chronic illnesses. This can be given by your child's college health center. Florida requires the Hepatitis B vaccine for school but if the series of 3 shots has not been finished, it should be finished before college. Hepatitis A vaccine is only necessary if your child is going to a college located in a state where the infection rate for Hepatitis A is higher than normal. Ask your physician if your child requires this 2 shot series. Tetanus-diptheria booster should be given every 10 years. If your child received their last shot over 10 years ago, a booster is necessary. Ask your doctor if your child needs any other shots.
Other important items for adolescents to bring to college
Besides not forgetting that favorite shirt or important CD, there are other items that your child should bring to college to make the move to college easier. Your child should have a copy of his/her shot record and last physical exam. A medication list with strength and dose frequency is necessary if your child takes any medicines on a daily basis. Also a summary detailing any chronic medical conditions with phone numbers of their specialists. Other necessary items are eyeglass/contact prescription, health insurance card and coverage information and a basic first aid kit containing such items as ibuprofen/acetaminophen, cold medications, thermometer, ice/heat pack, bandaids and antibiotic ointment.
This is a very exciting time for you and your child. Talk to them about important issues such as stress, underage drinking, illegal drug use and romantic relationships. Make sure that your child has gotten their physical exam and are up to date on all of their shots for college. Don't forget the other items your child needs to bring to college. If you have any questions, please ask your doctor. Your child's health is the basis for success in school.
~ May Lau, MD
Additional Information on Immunizations
Goldstein, M.A. (2002). Preparing adolescent patients for college [Electronic version]. Current opinions in pediatrics, 14(4), 384-388.
Neinstein, L. (2003). The healthy student: a parent's guide to preparing teens for the college years. (1st ed.)[Brochure]. United States: GlaskoSmithKline.