From A Parent Handbook for Talking with College Students About Alcohol

Most students have heard comments like, “Kids getting drunk is terrible,” from other adults and from the media. You should not start your conversation with statements such as this. Keep your comments short and remember that you don’t have to say everything. This is the beginning of a conversation. It probably is best to begin with a statement that conveys open-mindedness and then ask your son or daughter questions and his or her experiences. Talk about your own experiences and opinions about how they have changed over the years. As you tend to open up, so will your son or daughter. Keep distinctions between facts and opinions: “My opinion is…This opinion is based on facts. This opinion is based on these experiences. This opinion is based on these observations.”

Ask your son or daughter what he or she thinks. Listen while trying to understand, without defensiveness. Suspend critical judgment. Even if your student says what you want to hear (e.g., “I don’t drink now, let alone drink to get drunk”) don’t think that this means you don’t have to talk. Your goal is not just to reassure the student through talking but to help expand your student’s thinking. You want to help him or her deal with the range of experiences that your son or daughter is likely to encounter in college.

Try to think of thought-provoking questions that can be asked in a supportive, non-threatening way. For example: Do you know kids who drink a lot? How has it affected them? Have you ever been offered alcohol by someone you knew?  If so, what did you say? If not, what would you say? What if someone really pushed you? What would you say if they said…Is there another side to this view? Do you see any risks? Do you have any concerns? Ask questions; don’t lecture! This is probably the single most important aspect of communication. People like to talk about themselves and their opinions. People like to explore logic and details.

They do not like to be told what to think!

The Short Response

A number of parents who we have interviewed express frustration at their inability to get their son or daughter to talk at length on any issue. They swear that their son or daughter has a vocabulary comprised mostly of “Okay, Mom,” “I dunno,” “Whatever,” “If you want,” Sure, okay,” “Not now,” when it comes to parental conversation. Some students use these responses when they don’t feel like talking because they are busy, tired, or simply not in the mood. Maybe the student thinks he or she is just going to hear yet another lecture from the parent. Maybe the student thinks that the parent will start nagging at him or her, yet again. The student may think the parent just doesn’t understand them.

Parents need to respect this and not force communication at a bad time. Let it drop and bring it up later. Try to structure a time to talk when the student is apt to be open to it. Students are often tired at the end of a hard school day or an athletic event, and this may not be the best time to try to start a conversation. Or the student may be preoccupied with something else. Think about your student’s schedule and how you can create a time where you will have his or her undivided attention. Perhaps taking him or her out to a quiet dinner or some other place where a “one-on-one” conversation can be effectively initiated will work.

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