College students may not be fully prepared to handle their health and lifestyle logistics once they leave home. Many don't even know where or how they are getting their meals at school. It's not surprising that health frequently deteriorates during the freshman year, as many challenges can arise.
Dr. Emily Cooper, founder of The Diabesity Research Foundation, has more information about how parents can help incoming college freshmen prepare.
What parents can do
DR.COOPER: It's not just the parent's responsibility, kids need to be active participants too. Once a child is 18, medical confidentiality prevents parents from obtaining health information or directing their care, so it's part of the "letting go" process for them to take over this area...but parents CAN HELP their child prepare to take more control of their wellbeing.
Be prepared for regular health issues
- Pre-college check-up
- Coordinate care
- Medic Alert bracelet
- STD / pregnancy prevention
Before they leave for school, visit your child's physician to address any health concerns, receive any required vaccinations and plan medical follow up if needed either at the student health center or when back home during school breaks.
Provide the school's health center with access to your child's health information. Make sure prescriptions are filled and refills are accessible. If there are food allergies, arrange for special meals and plan for emergencies.
Is there a need for a medic alert bracelet? EPI pen? Inhaler? Has your child been educated on STD and pregnancy prevention? It's easier to avoid emergencies if there's a plan in place.
Prepare for day-to-day lifestyle challenges
- Sleep schedule
- Nutrition / Meals
- School Dietitian
- School Counselor
- Alcohol / Drugs
Before they have the freedom to make their own decisions is the perfect time to discuss making healthy lifestyle choices. Talk about getting proper sleep even when it's difficult and eating complete meals rather than relying on vending machines.
Some kids benefit from seeing a campus dietitian, especially if they are an athlete or if they are at risk for an eating disorder. Students should also be aware of counseling services available at most student health centers - in case of stress, depression or anxiety issues.
And of course, your kids should understand the dangers of binge drinking and drug use.
Prepare kids early
- Medical self-advocacy
- Meal prep / nutrition
- Sleep schedule
- Emergency plan
I advise parents to encourage their teens to start advocating for themselves as early as 15 years of aold under their parents' supervision. This means communicating their own symptoms at medical appointments, taking responsibility for medications prescribed, prepping some of their own meals, sleeping on a schedule and developing an emergency plan for health and safety issues that may arise.
It's always hard to let go of being in control of our kids, but starting early with all this advice is common sense and something that will help our kids in the long run, be healthy happy adults.