From A Parent Handbook for Talking with College Students About Alcohol

In this chapter, we discuss general issues about communicating effectively with your son or daughter. In all communication processes there are two important aspects: the style in which the material is presented and the content of the material. You may find that some parts of the chapter apply more to you than other parts.

Beginning A Dialogue

The first step in effectively talking with your student is simply getting the talking started. Such conversations will not necessarily occur in a single sitting, but often will evolve over multiple times. As a parent you must take active steps to establish the dialogue that is so important to both you and your student. When the time is right, you will want to suggest to your student that you would like to talk with her or him. Don’t expect your student to agree. In fact, many students will respond with a negative reaction.

Here are some common negative reactions that students have when parents try to open a dialogue about sensitive topics and a few ways other parents find useful in dealing with them:

Many students are open to talking but the last thing they want to hear is a one-way lecture from their parents about right and wrong. Studies show more drinking goes on in teens who come from homes where parents tend to lecture too much.

Student Objection

“I know what you will do if we talk. You’ll lecture me like you always do. Then if I argue you will interrupt me.”

Parental Response

“You’re right. This time I won’t lecture. I will listen to what you think. I want to change things now that you are heading to college.”

Some students interpret a request to talk as a sign that you do not trust them. Studies show that when teens feel they can trust their parents and are trusted by them they tend to drink less. You will need to offer reassurance that you are not suspicious and are doing this to help them, not attack them.

Student Objection

“What’s the matter, don’t trust me?”

Parental Response

“I trust you. But this is a very important issue and I think we need to pool the information we know to make sure you deal with everything effectively and that you know what to expect and what to do. To do that, we need to talk to each other.”

Another common objection focuses on fear of being punished. Studies show that when teens fear punishment they communicate less often with their parents. In turn, these teens tend to drink more often and are more likely to experience alcohol-related consequences.

Student Objection

“Sure, talk with you and you won’t let me go out. Forget it.”

Parental Response

“I promise that I won’t be that way. I will listen to you. I’ll take what you say seriously. I’ll be straight with you and you be straight with me.”

Some students don’t want to talk because they think they already know everything there is to know about a topic. Even though students think they know everything, they often do not. Don’t let this objection deter you in your pursuit of communication.

Student Objection

“I’ve heard it all before. We don’t need to talk.”

Parental Response

“You probably already know quite a bit. It would make me feel better if we talked it through. Besides, it would help me to better understand how things are different from when I was your age.”

Additional Considerations

There are other objections that you might get, although these are the major ones. Sometimes you will hear more than one of them from your son or daughter. The central themes in your response should be that of caring about the student, wanting to understand the student, and wanting to help the student, while at the same time respecting the student’s privacy and desire to be independent. The example parental responses we gave illustrated these themes. They may not work well for your particular son or daughter and you may need to adapt them to his or her particular personality. But if you have open communication channels, you are more likely to help your student. Most of all, be constructive in your responses, not defensive or angry.

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.