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The Red Zone




When we dropped our son off at college this past fall, all we kept overhearing from other students was talk about going out and getting trashed that night. 


My daughter got sent to the hospital for alcohol poisoning after just one week in college. We were concerned before, but now we are really worried – and she hasn’t even finished her first semester.




I was overwhelmed by the partying that took place those first few weeks. Three of the people I met during orientation droppedout  by the end of October due to their drinking.


My parents keep warning me about how the feeling of freedom I might experience when I first get to college can be dangerous. Why are they so concerned?


I was an honor student in high school and yet my GPA my freshman year was 2.4. I think I may have partied a bit too much.


As the fall semester begins, parents can use this important time to continue to help prepare their college-age sons and daughters by talking with them about the consequences of excessive drinking. College administrators often refer to the first six weeks of the semester as the “Red Zone.” It is during this period of time that many first-year students, struggling with their environment, engage in very high-risk activities, especially heavy drinking. As a result, the period is often marked by a high level of policy violations and other problems.



The First Six Weeks


Evidence suggests that the first six weeks of the first semester are crucial in the development of habits that will contribute to a successful academic career. Yet many young people also begin drinking heavily during this critical time. Pay special attention to your son's or daughter's experiences and activities during those important first weeks on campus.  


The significant increase in high-risk drinking by many new students over this six-week period of time can interfere with a successful adaptation to college life and contribute to serious difficulties with the transition to college. The results can be disappointing: research indicates that approximately one-third of first-year students fails to enroll for the second year.  


Since the Red Zone is a very high-risk time for first-year students, be supportive and call, write, or e-mail frequently. Most campuses conduct a parents’ weekend about six weeks into the school year. Attend! This is a crucial time in your student’s adjustment to being away from home, and a family visit can be very reassuring. And of course the occasional special “care package” from home is always a treat.



Calls and Visits


Ongoing communication during this time can be extremely helpful. However, be careful – there is a fine line between showing that you care and “nagging.” 


Here are a few topics for conversation for those first six weeks:


  • How are you adjusting? 

  • Do you like your classes? How are classes going? How is the workload?

  • What’s the social scene like? Are you making friends?

  • Have you gotten involved in any campus activities?  

  • What kinds of activities are available? 

  • Are you enjoying residence hall life? Why? Why not?

  • Do you see others making real friends, or just drinking buddies? 

  • How are you getting along with your roommate? 

  • Are you feeling overwhelmed? 

  • What can we do to help? 


Keep the following in mind when considering a visit.


  • Resist the urge to run off to campus to visit too soon.  

  • Most campuses have a parents’ weekend in October. It might be best to wait until then so your child has some time to adjust to campus life.

  • Give your student enough lead time so he or she can prepare for your visit.

  • Getting off campus and going out to dinner can always be a special luxury.



Easing the Transition


Moving away from home is a dramatic event in your teen’s life, but making sure your child has everything he or she needs for life in the residence halls will help ease some of the tensions as the big day approaches. The College Packing List in Appendix E provides a comprehensive list of all the personal items your teen might need to make his or her new home comfortable and comforting.  


The transition is difficult for parents, too. It’s important to understand that even though your teen is headed off to college, your guidance will remain beneficial. Teens value their parents’ opinions, so continue the dialogue, communicate regularly, and be sure to discuss your concerns. Even as teens mature, they still want to continue to make their parents proud, but at the same time establish their own identity, become more independent, and feel good about their own behaviors.

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