Over the next few weeks, thousands of students are heading off to start the next chapter of their lives. Many will live independently in their own dorms or apartments for the first time in their lives. As parents, it’s important to both be supportive, but to also have an open and honest dialogue about safety and wellness when living alone. Talking to your child about campus safety isn’t the easiest, but there are ways to teach and share this vital information.
Did you know that colleges release crime and safety reports yearly? This data is readily available on government and university sites for you to read through. Sit down with your student and pinpoint some of the areas where these crimes happen and talk about what they could do to prevent themselves from being a victim. For example, if a campus has high car break-ins in a particular parking lot, discuss alternate parking areas or map out lamp posts where it’s safer to park.
Tell True Stories
One of the best ways to get both sides talking is to be honest about your own college experiences. Talk about your fears about walking alone at night or how you lost a favorite piece of jewelry at a party. If you don’t have any stories or didn’t attend college, rope in a younger cousin or a work friend to speak. Having different voices can also show that campus safety issues can happen anywhere and to anyone.
Avoid Fear Tactics
When telling true stories or discussing safety issues, you may be tempted to talk about the worst case scenario. To a college aged student, this may come across as an over exaggeration. A more productive way to talk safety is to do it in general terms. Don’t talk about what could happen if you don’t tell one friend you’re going to a party or if you leave your computer out while you go to the bathroom. Instead, talk about safety like it’s just another part of being an adult. It normalizes the conversation and makes students feel like you are talking to them rather than at them.
Make Sure They’re Prepared
While packing, throw a few other things into their suitcase. Start with flashlights for power outages, whistles for walking late at night, or a first aid kit for medical emergencies. You can even wrap them as an “off to college” gift that you can discuss each purpose. When you’re on campus and unpacking, ask where you can hang a list of phone numbers for important people such as campus police, parents, and family members. Additional safety items that can lead to an awesome discussion are lockable safes, pepper spray (if allowed on campus), and copies of insurance cards.
Listen More Than You Talk
For many college students, there is a sense that once you’re in college, you are a totally capable adult. For parents, this can be frustrating, especially when a college kid shuts down the conversation. But frequently, the problem is not the actual topic of conversation but the way we talk to one another. When you bring up the conversation, ask more questions than giving answers. Be open to what they want to say or discuss, even if it is uncomfortable. And acknowledge both fears and their reluctance to safety ideas. These conversations may not go exactly like you want them too, but just having a safe space where they feel accepted regardless of the issue can be a very powerful resource if something were to happen.