Make Parents Part of Prevention

Parents are a major influence on a student’s decisions about whether, and how, to use alcohol and other drugs—and their influence doesn’t end when the students go off to college. By involving parents in your campus prevention efforts, you gain powerful allies.

Start by making the parents of prospective students a part of your prevention campaign well before the students have been admitted. Recruitment and informational materials for prospective students and their families should include your drug and alcohol policies. Include facts about the risks that alcohol and drugs can pose to academic performance, and outline the steps that your school takes to limit risky student behavior.

Continue to highlight your drug and alcohol prevention programs in your post-admission communications with students and their families. Include statements of your school’s drug and alcohol policies in any materials that you send about campus life, academic requirements, health and safety, and residential rules—wherever these substance use policies are appropriate. Remember to include descriptions of on-campus prevention resources, too.

If some of your materials are specifically addressed to parents, consider including information about the stress that freshmen face during their transition to college; mention their vulnerability to alcohol or drug abuse. Parents may be unaware of the extent and seriousness of the problem, and such information can help enlist their support. Provide tips for how parents can help their student cope with these risks.

After students are enrolled, communicate regularly with parents about your drug and alcohol abuse prevention programs. Ongoing updates help parents relay messages to their student that are consistent with the campus efforts. Keeping the lines of communication open can also help allay parental concerns about drug and alcohol use at your school.

Information to Share with Parents

  • Guidance in talking with their student about alcohol and drugs. MyStudentBody–Parent provides resources for effective communication on these often-difficult topics.
  • Campus policies and laws. Be clear about campus policies on the use of drugs and alcohol. Don’t forget to mention the role of local, state, and federal laws in the possible prosecution of offending students. Some parents may want to know why the college can’t do more to keep students from using alcohol or other substances. Your materials should remind them that the responsibility for using drugs or alcohol ultimately rests with the individual student. Ask parents to support your campus policies and prevention efforts.
  • Response to stories in the media. Media stories about students’ alcohol and drug use can prompt a spike in calls from concerned parents. The best way to respond is with accurate data about drug or alcohol use among students on your campus; in addition, acknowledge the seriousness of the issue, and provide information about prevention and treatment resources that are offered at your school. By proactively contacting parents immediately after a publicized incident, you can help defuse parental concern—and reduce parental calls.
  • Notification about their student’s violations. Colleges often notify parents when a student violates alcohol or drug policies. FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) protects the privacy of college-age students; schools are allowed to inform parents, however, when their under-21 student violates a law or campus policy on the use or possession of alcohol or drugs. Some colleges notify parents and some do not. Advocates argue that contacting parents makes them active partners in prevention efforts, while opponents cite potential problems keeping contact information current and inadvertently violating the privacy rights of students who turn 21 during the school year. Either way, tell parents when their student is admitted about your school’s notification policy, and repeat the information in any distributed materials about campus or residential life. If it is your policy to notify, also offer parents the option of waiving this notification.

Parents can be an asset on task forces and committees that address substance abuse in your college community. Online and tele-conferencing technology also makes it possible for them to participate in meetings even when they live far from campus.

Parents can play an important and effective role in preventing student drug and alcohol abuse, if you keep the lines of communication open at every stage. MyStudentBody–Parent helps you enlist parents in your prevention efforts, by providing them with links to your campus drug and alcohol policies, offering information about the risks for substance abuse among college students, and suggesting strategies for communicating effectively with their college-age students.

References

The Inter-Association Task Force on Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse Issues (IATF).  Parental notification.  Retrieved November 7, 2011, from http://www.iatf.org/parent1a.htm 

U.S. Department of Education (DOE). (2007). Balancing student privacy and school safety: A guide to the family educational rights and privacy act for colleges and universities. Retrieved November 7, 2011, from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/brochures/postsec.html 

Center for College Health and Safety. Parents. Retrieved November 7, 2011, from http://www.campushealthandsafety.org/audiences/parents/ 

Chassin L, Handley ED. (2006). Parents and families as contexts for the development of substance use and substance use disorders. Psychol Addict Behav. 2006 Jun;20(2):135-7; discussion 140-2.

The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. (2000). Alcohol, Other Drugs, and College: A Parent's Guide. Retrieved November 7, 2011, from http://www.higheredcenter.org/files/product/parents.pdf 

The College Parent Advisor. Eight Points for Parents Speaking with Students About Alcohol. Retrieved November 7, 2011, from http://www.collegeparents.org/members/resources/articles/eight-points-parents-speaking-students-about-alcohol 

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We are generally using MyStudentBody for judicial violations, but we hope to continue to expand use of the program for non-policy violating students. I am especially pleased with the personal service offered."

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