College Isn’t Always Animal House

There have been a disturbing number of campus deaths noted in the news. The majority of these deaths have been related to excessive drinking. One of the main venues where the deaths occur is fraternities and occasionally sororities. Greek life can be perilous.

When a parent considers what lies ahead for their son or daughter, they have to take into consideration the effect that unsupervised freedom will have on their child. To some extent, the kinds of parental limitations or freedoms that were administered at home, especially across the high school years, will likely have some effect on the college student’s behavior on campus.

One particularly counterintuitive situation develops when a child, often times a female, has been under very strict parental control during his or her developmental teen years and then finds him/herself among a group of peers at college who have not been so closely controlled at home. Suddenly, the child realizes that Mom and Dad aren’t there watching over every coming and going, so a new realization and surge of freedom emerges. This is often accompanied by overcompensation and a backlash of overzealous (a.k.a. wild) behaviors.

animal house party

Does it always have to be this way? Fortunately, it does not.

A new study by the Research Society on Alcoholism says that college-student status does not automatically mean excessive drinking, with the accompanying risky behaviors. The study summarizes its findings like this:

College matriculation is often associated with increases in the frequency and intensity of drinking. This study used a national sample to examine the association between being a college student and changes in excessive drinking from late adolescence through young adulthood and whether students’ residing with their parents during the school year affected the association.

As you can see, the proximity of parents has can have an active effect on behaviors. That seems obvious, but there are a number of variables at work. Let’s take a closer look. As the Science Daily notes:

… College matriculation is often associated with increases in the frequency and intensity of drinking. This study used a national sample to examine the association between being a college student and changes in excessive drinking from late adolescence through young adulthood and whether students’ residing with their parents during the school year affected the association.

researcher

Researchers analyzed data from the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions for 8,645 non-high school young adults aged 18 to 30 years. Excessive drinking in the past year was defined for men as ≥10 standard drinks per occasion and for women as ≥8) standard drinks per occasion. Exceeding weekly drinking guidelines was defined as >14 drinks per week for men and >7 drinks per week for women. Students who resided away from their parents and students who lived with their parents during the school year were compared to non-students.

Results showed that being a student is not a universal risk factor for excessive drinking across the ages of 18 to 30 years. While being a student was associated with excessive drinking, this was true only at certain ages and for certain student groups: for example, during the traditional college ages of the early 20s and for those students living away from home. The authors speculate that it may not necessarily be student status that is related to increased odds of excessive drinking during the early 20s, but rather an absence of demands associated with commitments such as full-time employment, marriage, and parenthood. …

In simpler terms, it appears that during one’s early 20s, being a college student can be a contributing factor to heavy drinking. When in Rome … etc.

However, across the ages of 18 30, the heaviest likelihood for excessive drinking occurs (according to the study’s authors) in those early 20s, not only because of collegiate influences but also because of the lack of more significant responsibilities, such as marriage, parenting, home ownership, etc. This would tend to be the case among that particular demographic.

sailors

I can vouch for this hypothesis based on my own behaviors, or misbehaviors, if you will. When I was in my early 20s, I was a relatively free agent. I had just finished military service and was exploring a number of various job opportunities and personal relationships. Although I lived with my parents for two years after my discharge from the Navy, when I was 21 and 22, they gave me about 95% free reign over what I did and when I came and went. My good times did roll, though.

That changed when I got married at 23 and then became a father at 25. The responsibilities of working, parenting, financial realities, etc. certainly sobered up my thinking, so to speak. I didn’t become a fun-free fellow, but my partying index  took a sharp nosedive.

Another article that speaks to this study, College Life Does Not Mean Students Become Heavy Drinkers, Study Suggests, approaches it this way:

Heavy drinking among college students is one of the biggest problems in the United States, and one of the most common misconceptions of many people about college students is that they are engaged to excessive drinking, but a study suggests that this is not always the case. …

When one considers how many college students there are in the United States, it’s easy to see the scale of the issue. Going back to my lead statement regarding the negative outcomes of college drinking, here are some of the consequences of early 20s life on campus:

– Death: About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.

– Assault: About 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

– Sexual Assault: About 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

– Academic Problems: About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.5 In a national survey of college students, binge drinkers who consumed alcohol at least 3 times per week were roughly 6 times more likely than those who drank but never binged to perform poorly on a test or project as a result of drinking (40 percent vs. 7 percent) and 5 times more likely to have missed a class (64 percent vs. 12 percent).

– Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD): About 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an AUD.

– Other Consequences: These include suicide attempts, health problems, injuries, unsafe sex, and driving under the in uence of alcohol, as well as vandalism, property damage, and involvement with the police.

balance

So, all you Moms and Dads who have a son or daughter about to enter or who are in the early high school years, what should you be thinking about all this as you ponder those collegiate days ahead? My advice, in one word, as a parent who lived through a son’s and a daughter’s high school and college days, is: balance. Don’t go off the pier on either end.

Don’t keep your grip so tight that you’re creating a great deal of potential behavioral energy that could be released with a vengeance come college days. On the other hand, don’t be an everything’s-okay-with-me Mom or Dad. Let your child know that there will be consequences for actions that go outside the lines. You must clearly express where those lines are, according to your own guidelines, and reinforce them from time to time.

Keeping your child within a reasonable world of behavioral expectations is the key to success. I’m certainly not condoning underage drinking, drugs, risky sexual behavior, or other dangerous activities. What I am taking about is giving your son or daughter a chance to grow and establish a balanced self-identity, one that will serve them well on campus. If allowed to do that, they won’t suddenly be thrown into a social situation where they feel like a starving person suddenly awakening in a bakery, staring at a display case filled with cookies, breads, and cakes.

College doesn’t have to be Animal House. There’s a ton of opportunity available for those who can arise early Sunday mornings and tie their shoes without falling on their face, as a reminder of Saturday night. Balance to the rescue once more!

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.