A Health Syllabus: Advice for college freshmen
First came the college search. Then came the acceptance letter. Now you’re helping your teen prepare for his or her first year as a college freshman. It’s easy to take care of the basics: trips to the store for towels, toasters and the mini-fridge; signing final registration forms; and packing the family vehicle for moving day.
But another basic you’ll want to cover before your coed departs is his or her pre-college physical exam and immunizations  for meningitis, influenza and human papilomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer.
In addition to the basics, the best thing you can equip your college-bound kid with is sound advice. Since we know talking to your young adult isn’t always easy, here’s how you can start the conversation on the things your teen needs to know to stay healthy:
I know you might not miss my cooking, but try to fit some fruits and vegetables into your diet.
Diet can be one of the biggest changes for your child when starting college. Living with a mini-fridge and microwave in a dorm room can make cooking a challenge. Instead, purchase a card for the campus cafeteria, which will offer more nutritious options than fast food and pizza. “In college, diet is such an important component of weight maintenance and improving academic performance,” says Reid Hartmann, M.D. , a family medicine physician with The Christ Hospital Medical Associates. “Tailor the conversation to your kid’s needs and eating patterns. Give them tips on how to eat healthy on the go, and don’t forget to talk about the importance of exercise.”
Your classes seem really interesting and exciting, but if the stress gets to be too much, there’s help out there.
According to Dr. Hartmann, stress can either push young adults to step out of their boundaries and excel, or overwhelm and hinder their ability to learn. “Help them try to gauge when their stress level is manageable, and when to seek help if it becomes too much,” he says. “Most universities have free counseling services. Or if you can, advise them to find someone they trust outside of their social network to talk to, such as a teaching assistant or dormitory advisor.”
You have a lot to celebrate, but you don’t need alcohol to do so.
“There are a lot of social pressures surrounding alcohol consumption, and chances are, your child is aware of them,” Dr. Hartmann says. “Let them know how you feel about substance use, the consequences, and set your expectations.”
If your child has had problems with drinking, drugs or tobacco use, do your best to nip the problem in the bud by seeking medical help, such as a smoking cessation class, before sending the student off to college where the temptation may be worse.
When it comes to sex, remember: The decisions you make now could impact the rest of your life.
Talking to your kids about sexual health is one of the most difficult conversations, but it’s arguably the most important. “There can be changes in sexual behavior when students start college,” Dr. Hartmann says. “They need to be educated about the risks around sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.”
If you still find the conversation difficult, consult your family physician. “Sometimes it can be easier for teens to ask their physician questions about sexual health and birth control,” Dr. Hartmann says. “Plus, it’s a chance for us to recommend preventive measures and guidance around being safe, like encouraging young women to get immunized for HPV.”
I know you’ll have fun at college – just make sure to get enough rest and hit the books.
Encourage your kid to think of college first and foremost as the place they’ll get the education they need, as well as a place to develop new interests and social networks. The key is prioritizing. Ask them what their reasons are for going to college and how they plan to hit those academic and social goals while leaving time for rest. “Sleeping at least eight hours is still important,” Dr. Hartmann says. “It will help them prioritize their day and be more productive.”
The family medicine physicians with The Christ Hospital Medical Associates can help prepare your student for college. “Our family medicine practice provides a very adult experience for the patient, while recognizing that they are still growing into adulthood,” Dr. Hartmann says.