Independent yet still dependent: Topics to cover with your college kid

WASHINGTON — College is an immersive experience. Labs and lectures are just one part of it. There’s a different world to explore outside the classroom as well.

This introduction to adulthood can be exciting — and somewhat perilous.

“College is a great time for kids to learn to be independent,” said parenting blogger Leslie Morgan Steiner, “but we still need to guide them.”

It’s important for parents to ensure that their kids are handling the stresses of college life and taking care of themselves, she said. And family-weekend-visit season offers a good opportunity to lend that guidance on a list of topics.

“There are things on this list that most of us don’t consider when we send them off,” Steiner said, “and at the top of the list is their physical health and their mental health.”

Kids should have their insurance information, she suggested. They should also know their blood type and surgery history, and they should be aware of any allergies.

If their kids are going to school out of state, parents also will need a health care power of attorney that the child has already signed if they’re over 18, so that parents can talk to the child’s doctor or make medical decisions for them.

“This is particularly important if, heaven forbid, your child is seriously injured and can’t make decisions for themself,” Steiner said.

A few other things that can go on that list of topics:

Safe sex, birth control, sexually transmitted infections etc.: These are topics “we may think we have already covered, but it’s good to bring them up again,” Steiner said.

Alcohol: “There are some things that are different in college,” she said. “If your child is joining a fraternity or sorority, you really have got to talk to them about hazing and experimentation and what’s safe and what’s not safe.”

Sexual assault: It’s particularly risky the first couple of months as girls find their way around campus and understand the risk factors, Steiner said. And parents should talk with their boys about false accusations, “which are extremely rare,” she said. “All they really need to do is stay calm if they’re falsely accused.”

Saying something when they see something: Make sure your kids know the role a bystander can play in helping out a roommate or friend, Steiner suggested.

Financial health: “Believe it or not, going to college is a risk factor for poverty,” she said. “You’ve got to talk to your kids about their financial health — not falling for that first credit card application that they get, and not taking on too much debt or doing too much crazy spending.”

If a kid seems homesick and anxious, Steiner said, don’t be too worried about it. They’re normal among college students: 62 percent, she said, experience overwhelming anxiety at times.

“I think what you need to look for as a parent is if there’s a huge change in their kid’s behavior,” she said, “or they seem to be unusually quiet and keeping everything inside.”

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