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Healthy You

Preparing Your Kids for College Life

Navigating through college life can be a bit tricky, especially if it is your first time as a parent going through it. With new freedoms, responsibilities, opportunities and choices, it is important to understand that students can’t do everything. Ernest Wang, MD, Emergency Medicine at NorthShore, shares his advice about preparing parents and kids for college.

Female College Student Studying in a Cafe

Social Scene:

  • Social life in college is often discussed in terms of drugs, sex, hazing, partying, etc. Talk to your kids about the dangers of underage drinking and the legal consequences. Address sexual assault, keeping their drinks safe and what consent is.
  • Have a discussion with your kids about drugs. Start a healthy conversation about the side effects and consequences involved in choosing to do drugs.
  • Many schools have immunity rules that allow you to call for help if someone is in danger, even if a student has been drinking, without being penalized.
  • There are plenty of events, hosted by clubs or other opportunities to explore off campus, for kids who do not want to attend parties or be pressured into drinking or using drugs.


  • Talk to your kids about making friends, and good ways to meet new people. Remind them to be open to getting involved on campus, joining clubs or teams, and considering things they may have thought not for them like Greek life or volunteering.
  • Explain they should not and do not need to change who they are to fit in. Colleges are diverse with people of all backgrounds and interests!
  • Emphasize that hazing is usually done involving people they call “friends” but is not acceptable and can be grounds for suspension.
  • Sexual assault is an issue for both men and women. Talk about consent, what it is, what it isn’t, how it can change and that there are very serious consequences in sexual assaults.
  • Heartbreak can happen both in and out of college. Discuss the effects of heartbreak and that it can mimic symptoms of depression. Remind them that you are always there for them and that they have on-campus resources available to them for help.
  • College is a very communal place and there will be times your kids will need to step up and help someone. Emphasize that they may need to rely on others at times as well and that it is not a sign of weakness, but of growth.

Academics and Mental Health:

  • Students push themselves to do it all- from attending every event to maintaining perfect grades to exercising every day. However, this isn’t attainable. Talk to your kids about finding balance and discuss healthy strategies for managing stress.
  • After a certain amount of study time, your brain can’t process more information. A healthy practice is to set a timer, then in between study sessions get dinner or exercise to give your brain a rest.
  • Encourage them to ask for help when needed. Peer tutors are available on many college campuses.
  • Educate your kids about the warning signs of depression and discuss ways to help someone struggling.

Physical Health:

  • Encourage a healthy diet. The infamous “Freshman 15” is caused by eating high-calorie foods (often late at night) and drinking sugary beverages and alcohol. This will affect both academic performance and physical well-being.
  • Emphasize the importance of exercise! With a balanced diet, hydration and exercise, students can limit and prevent many health issues.
  • Suggest a bedtime for weeknights. In order for students to function properly, they need about eight or more hours of sleep.

College is what students make of it, but remind them they will still have their whole lives ahead of them. Things will go wrong, but learning how to deal with challenges is part of personal growth at school. Follow these tips and help your child make college the “best four years” of their lives.