The Importance of Having the Conversation About Drinking

Students posing with the Blue Jay

The Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems is a growing network of colleges and universities across our state. The Collaborative has created a valuable website that provides tips for talking to college-aged children about alcohol and high-risk situations that involve alcohol. We wanted to share this message from the Collaborative leadership and ask that you take a few moments over the upcoming Thanksgiving Break to talk to your student(s) about this important issue. You are invaluable partners in the effort to educate our students about making responsible decisions with regard to drugs and alcohol.

Your student is attending one of the nation’s leading universities, and that is a huge accomplishment. As public health professionals, we’re here to remind you that the college years, while wonderful, are also a period of heightened risk-taking—including excessive drinking.

Regardless of the newfound independence and freedom of college, research shows that parent’s voices still matter to students. Discussing alcohol with your student can be challenging. However, there is a website that can help, CollegeParentsMatter.org, that was based on science and developed by experts as part of the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking Related Problems.

Research tells us that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until the late 20’s. The part of the brain that regulates behavior develops a lot slower than the emotional centers. The result? Young adults in the 18–25 age group make decisions on emotions more than logical reasoning. Research also shows the younger a person starts to drink, there is more probability they will have problems with memory and learning. It can also make a person more susceptible to addiction to alcohol and other drugs in the long-term.

As a parent, you still can have healthy and impactful conversations with your student on how to make smart decisions. CollegeParentsMatter.org focuses on common situations related to high-risk drinking during college, spring break, holidays, or 21st birthdays. Here are a few key tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to start the conversation. Talking about drinking is not taboo. Even if your child doesn’t drink, they most likely know people who do and/or have been offered alcohol.
  • Give yourself permission as a parent or guardian to disapprove of your student drinking. Contrary to popular opinion, parents who set zero-tolerance expectations around alcohol use are much less likely to have children who drink excessively during college than parents who have permissive attitudes.
  • Reject the myth that discouraging drinking is naïve or useless because everyone is doing it. The idea that “everyone drinks all the time” is simply false. On the contrary, although many college students drink alcohol, most do not drink regularly or excessively. Myths like these exaggerate—sometimes even glorify—behaviors of only a small group of students.
  • Recognize the power of your influence. Some parents say, “They’re 18, I can’t tell them what to do anymore.” True, but your attitudes and directions still matter enormously. When researchers asked a group of fourth-year college students, “What were the most important influences in helping you achieve what you have accomplished in college,” their number one answer was “My parents.”

Thank you for all that you do! We congratulate you on how far you’ve brought your student already.