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College Safety Tips: Talking Personal Safety at College

When your son or daughter is getting ready to head off to college, they’re likely excited about the chance to enjoy some delicious freedom. You, on the other hand, may be thinking about all the ways they could get into trouble, far from your watchful eyes.

By the time I dropped my kids off at their college dorms, they were tired of hearing my voice. I snuck in advice whenever and wherever I could in the hopes that some of it would sink in. Don’t walk alone at night. Leave with the friends you came with. Don’t drink the punch. Nothing good happens after 2 a.m. 

They will act like they don’t want to hear it, but I can promise you two things: One, we really do need to have these awkward conversations. And two, they are actually listening. So, here’s what they need to know:

1. Use the Buddy System

“Talk to your friends before going out about your intentions for the night. Develop a plan for how to look out for one another, and stick to that plan,” says Jennifer McCary, assistant vice president for student affairs and Title IX coordinator at Bowling Green State University. “Alcohol and other drugs make things unclear, and statistics have shown that alcohol-related sexual assault is a common occurrence on college and university campuses.” Everyone needs a wingman or woman.

2. It’s Okay to Say No Thanks

“Students tend to believe that everyone at college is drinking, but that’s not the case,” says McCary. Of those who do drink, many are doing it only because their friends are. She believes students might be surprised to learn just how many others would be on board with having an alcohol-free evening. “It’s okay to put water or ginger ale in that red cup. No one will know that you aren’t drinking a beer,” she tells students.

If a student does plan to drink, she suggests, “Tell your friends that you don’t plan to have more than one or two drinks, and then hold each other accountable.” The goal is to avoid binge drinking, an increasing problem on college campuses and one that can have life-threatening consequences. Binge drinking typically happens when men consume five or more drinks or women consume four or more drinks in about two hours. This truly is the time for your teenager to “just say no.”

3. Set Clear Boundaries on Consent

While the primary focus of parental worry for college kids might be drugs and alcohol, it’s incredibly important to have conversations about sex as well. This applies to both sons and daughters. “Students need to understand what constitutes consent and be sure to have clear consent before engaging in any sexual activity,” says McCary.


Nelson Nio, Founder of SHIELD Women’s Self Defense System in Los Angeles, gives this advice: “If someone does something that crosses your boundary, say, ‘That doesn’t work for me,’ and stick with it. Trust your instincts and always be aware of your surroundings. Never be embarrassed to run or create a scene if you feel threatened. Don’t just say ‘No,’ yell loudly: ‘Stop!! This is rape!’”

4. Speak Up

Students may be hesitant to make a report for fear of any negative repercussions. But McCary strongly advises them to speak up or intervene if they see or experience something that is wrong.“Don’t be afraid to step up and step in if necessary.” She suggests signing up for bystander training if your campus offers it.

“Take advantage of resources provided by the university,” she adds. “If you need help, or need to support a friend, there are several offices designed to assist you, including confidential resources. Use them.”

“Report concerns of sexual misconduct, relationship violence, stalking, bias, or any other concerning incidents.”

Hopefully, your student will never need this advice. But just on the off chance … have the difficult conversations.

Linda Wolff

Linda Wolff writes the parenting and lifestyle blog Carpool Goddess, where she blazes the trail from teen years to empty nest proving that midlife and motherhood aren’t so scary. Find her at: FB and Twitter @carpoolgoddess