From A Parent Handbook for Talking with College Students About Alcohol


Here are some tips studies have shown make a difference in how students respond.


Permit the person to speak without interruption. Listen to what he or she says. Sometimes, it is good to paraphrase. “Let me see if I understand you. It sounds like you feel that…” With paraphrasing, you don’t agree or disagree, you interpret.

Verbalize Respect

Whenever you can and it is appropriate to do so, convey respect to the other individual (e.g., “I admire what you have done and how you are coping”). People want to be respected and will be more willing to talk to those who respect them. Tell your son or daughter you are proud of them for being able to handle these tough situations.

Choose a Good Time

Choose an optimal time to bring up and discuss problems. Don’t do it when the other person is rushed or has a commitment elsewhere. Wait until you both can have a relaxed, calm discussion. Perhaps you could take your child to lunch or out for some ice cream where you could both sit down to talk and listen to one another.

Communicate Directly

Don’t talk about important things while absorbed in another activity, such as reading the newspaper, watching television, or doing the dishes.

Try to Appeal to Common Goals

Students need to be reminded that you are on their side. Whenever possible, common goals should be emphasized and should serve as the basis for your guidance and recommendations (e.g., You both want them to be healthy and safe).

Avoid Communication “Stoppers”

There are single statements that will close anyone down (e.g., “Anyone who drives drunk is crazy;” “No one in this family would ever consider doing that”).

Conflict is Natural

Realize that conflict is natural. We are not identical to one another. We all have different beliefs and values, therefore disagreement is a natural thing. We should use conflict as an opportunity for growth and for learning about each other rather than treating it as a negative experience.

Agree to Disengage

Agree to temporarily stop if things don’t go well. Wait until both individuals can talk in a calm, direct fashion.

Use Appropriate Body Language

How you position yourself as you talk can send important messages about your attitudes or possibly convey something you are not trying to convey.

Avoid Debate Mode

Sometimes conversations become structured so that people feel they must “defend” their position. The entire conversation turns to a mini-debate. If you sense the conversation has turned into a debate, try suggesting that you both approach matters from a different angle. Also avoid statements that begin with “you” (“You did this…”). They often make the other person feel attacked.

A Parent Handbook for Talking with College Students About Alcohol
By Rob Turrisi, Ph.D.
Prevention Research Center, The Pennsylvania State University
© 2010 CO Productions Ltd. All rights reserved.
Note: No part of this text can be used or reproduced without written permission from the author.