Southeastern University President Kent Ingle: 5 talks you need to have with your child before college

Before they pack their bags and head out the door, here are five topics to discuss with your children

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Sending your student off to college can be one of the most exhilarating and stressful times of your life. As your student embarks on this new journey, all of your parental guidance and input will be put to the test. 

For many students, moving away from home will teach them how to navigate life’s challenges on their own. You may wonder if you have prepared them enough for this leap of independence. 

Before they pack their bags and head out the door, here are five topics to discuss with your children.

1. FriendsCollege is an opportune time to develop relationships that can last a lifetime. However, your student’s friend group can make or break their college experience. An assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, Janice McCabe, detailed in her book, "Connecting in College," how a student’s academic and social life intertwine. McCabe’s research found that students who had a close group of friends that provided academic motivation and support were more likely to graduate. 


Parents should encourage their students to participate in a wide variety of activities – from student leadership to clubs – to meet new friends. However, as a parent, I always reminded my children that the people they surround themselves with will influence them whether or not they realize it. 

2. Safety – One of the most frequent questions I get as a college president is "Will my child be safe?" Nearly 70% of college students worry about safety-related situations. Thanks to the Clery Act, colleges must publicly report how they address crimes on their campuses. Nevertheless, as a parent, you can help your student realize the significance of practicing safety. 

Remind them to always be alert and aware of their surroundings, memorize their campus map and never walk alone at night. Like most colleges, Southeastern University (where I serve as president) has security officers on campus 24/7. Students can also call for a member of our security team to escort them if they get out of class after dark. Help is accessible if they need it – they just have to know how to call for it.

3. Drinking – Although your student may be under the legal drinking age, that won’t necessarily stop them from drinking. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), close to 53% of full-time college students (aged 18 to 22) drank alcohol in the past month. The harm and damage done by underage drinking is staggering. Nearly 700,000 students aged 18 to 22 are assaulted each year by another student who has been drinking. 

Be vulnerable when talking with your student about drinking. Don’t be afraid to share stories that can help you relate to their situations. However, remind them that their actions will have consequences. In that same study by the NIAAA, one in four students reported experiencing academic difficulties due to drinking. The decisions they make can affect the rest of their academic journeys. 


4. Mental Health – The pandemic has brought on a new level of mental health issues for college-aged students. A study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that 71% of students experienced an increase in stress and anxiety due to COVID-19. To assist students, many colleges offer free Telehealth services. At Southeastern University, we offer 24/7 mental health support where students can talk to a mental health professional or a licensed counselor for free. 

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From keeping up in classes to learning personal responsibility, all of these changes may be overwhelming for your student. Encourage your student to prioritize taking breaks – getting outside for fresh air, taking a walk or doing something spontaneous and fun. If they feel overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, let them know that it is OK to ask for help and share resources with them. 


5. Finances – Going off to college can be one of your student’s first steps to financial independence. By now, you most likely have had a conversation about who is going to pay the bill. A study by PR Newswire found that 69% of parents expect their children to contribute to their college bills. Let your child know upfront what his or her financial responsibility will be. Do you expect them to cover the bill? Do you want them to get a job? These are conversations and questions you need to discuss before they leave. 

As a parent, you can help your child determine a budget for their first year of college. Many parents and students find that college can end up costing more than they expected, so don’t forget to consider unexpected costs. 


Finally, enjoy this season as your child moves into adulthood. This is, after all, a huge milestone in his or her life. You’ve spent nearly two decades pouring knowledge into your child. Believe it or not, they will remember a lot more than you think they will. 

Don’t forget to remind them that you are always there for them. Communication lines must continue to stay open. But, you also need to give them space to grow on their own.