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The Exciting Yet Critical Time for Conversations: College

It’s an exciting time in my house as my 18-year old son Ryan prepares to head off to college. I have no doubt he is ready to go and start the next chapter of his life filled with exciting new experiences and adventures. I also think he, like most college freshmen, is probably a little anxious and uncertain.

As long as Ryan can remember, I have always worked at the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, and as a result, he and his older sister have benefited from a lifetime of conversations about the dangers and consequences of underage drinking and drunk driving based on the extraordinary resources offered by I am also not sending my first child off to college, which is why I know that it is just as important now, and maybe even more so, to keep having these conversation and to continue having them well beyond the last sighting of him as we drive away from campus.

Like many colleges and universities, Ryan’s school requires all freshmen to complete an online alcohol education program to learn about alcohol, and how their own drinking experiences and beliefs compare to other students on campus. For parents the university provided a brochure with information and tips on how to talk to your son and/or daughter about alcohol before they get to school. Most students and parents have had similar experiences this summer. But, trust me you’re not done yet, and you should not consider yourself done.

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As parents, our influence is powerful; 20 years of research identifies parents have been the leading influence on their sons’ and daughters’ decisions to drink alcohol or not. That is why for nearly 18 years we have had on-going conversations about our expectations, beliefs and values, the tools he needs to make healthy decisions and keep him safe, but also about underage drinking and alcohol responsibility. Just as my once dependent son has morphed into a 6’ 4” young man, our conversations have evolved too. To have effective conversations, I must respect him as an adult but also continue to be his parent.

Like it or not, alcohol is a fact of life at most college campuses and it is unlikely your child is going to bring up this topic with you. So you need to be prepared for these conversations. Some of the things we are discussing include:

  • His thoughts on drinking
  • Our beliefs about alcohol and underage drinking
  • Our expectations of him
  • Making healthy and responsible decisions
  • What behaviors are risky and dangerous when it comes to drinking
  • The physical and psychological dangers of heavy drinking
  • Understanding what low risk drinking is
  • Ways to refuse a drink and combatting the pressure to drink
  • How to recognize when someone needs help and Good Samaritan laws
  • Strategies for safety

You might also check out’s Parents’ You’re Not Done Yet or college drinking statistics if you need help getting your conversation started. It’s never too late to start a lifetime of conversations around alcohol responsibility.

Maureen Dalbec, Vice President of Research at, and her husband are proud parents of two college age children. In her free time she enjoys running and swimming and occasionally competing in triathlons as well as volunteering in her community.

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