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Substance Abuse on Campus

Visiting College Campuses

If you're the parent of a college-bound student, you're probably shaken by the tragic news stories involving kids, drugs, and alcohol that crop up every year across the country. Although you can't control the kind of decisions your 18-year-old is going to make once he or she is on her own, you can determine how seriously a school views its role in monitoring and preventing substance abuse.

Why not begin when you're visiting prospective colleges with your child? The signs are everywhere -- you just need to know what to look for. The trick is to keep it subtle. I've seen parents who aggressively buttonhole administration officials or talk the ears off the tour guide, and it's clearly not the best approach. You run the risk of embarrassing your child and you're likely to hear repetitive, "We're on top of it" feedback. If I had to do the college circuit again, I'd try to visit a school while it's in session, preferably a day or two after a weekend. Seeing is believing.

What to Look For

When you and your teen visit your prospective colleges:

  • Cruise around the commercial area where college kids hang out. Notice the number of taverns and bars. How many of them deliberately target students with special prices, free food, or other bait?

  • As you're walking through campus buildings, scan the bulletin boards. What seems to be the pitch in notices for student events? Are there ads from liquor stores or bars in the student union?

  • Do residence halls have trash cans filled with empty booze containers? Do kids have pyramids of beer cans in their rooms? Empty kegs in the halls? Casually ask a student or a resident adviser about what non-drinking kids do for fun on campus.

  • Talk to a faculty member to get a personal take on the drug/alcohol scene. As the weekend approaches, does class attendance drop off? Or strike up a conversation with a security officer. Ask him what he thinks the college is more interested in -- dealing with problems or covering them up.

  • Get your hands on student newspapers and other school-related publications. Notice how many advertisements contain alcohol or drug-related messages and look at the editorial page for related themes. Some schools publish a weekly list of incidents involving the campus police. That in itself can be an eye-opener.
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