As summer winds to close, many kids are preparing to head off to college, be it near home or far away. This leaves many parents pondering, “Will my child be safe on campus?”
This question is especially salient for parents of incoming freshmen who will be away from home for the first time. For these young adults, going to college may be their first opportunity to experience a significant degree of independence. With that independence comes a high level of responsibility, including making daily safety choices. So, how can you as a parent help prepare your freshman (or returning student) for life on campus?
Mom and Dad, it’s important to be totally straight-up and honest with your teen about what campus life will be like. Take the time to sit down and discuss this… it doesn’t have to be a scary conversation, but it does need to be real. In fact, it’s a good idea to begin prepping your teen for safety while they are in high school (many of the same rules apply).
Expect your teen to seem frustrated or bored by the conversation and try not to let it bother you. Believe it or not, they will be listening and, with a little savvy and luck, may even engage in the conversation with you. One of the reasons this conversation is SO IMPORTANT is because students, especially new students, are at higher risk to become victims of sexual violence. In fact, the majority of sexual assault cases happen to new students in the first two (2) semesters on campus.
Here are 10 campus safety tips to review with your kids as they head off to college.
1. Trust your gut, but err on the side of caution.
Your young adult will be making all sorts of new friends and acquaintances as s/he begins life on campus. Before sharing too many personal details or trusting someone implicitly, be sure s/he understands the importance of really knowing that person. If s/he has even an inkling that something isn’t straight-up — you know, that funny, uncomfortable feeling you get in the pit of your stomach — the time isn’t right to throw his/her trust in the ring. Encourage your teen to be careful and have faith in his/her inner-self.
2. Prep and use your cell phone.
Before arriving on campus, program emergency numbers into your teen’s phone so help is readily available at the press of a button or a quick Siri request. Mom and Dad, you should already be programmed in — other numbers to include would be:
- Campus police
- Residential housing office
- Campus health clinic
- ICE (“In Case of Emergency”) Contact — this may be Mom, Dad or someone else you know that lives close to campus. Program “ICE” at the beginning of the contact information; emergency responders are trained to search for ICE on cell phones. There is also “an app for that”.
- Taxi service: this is helpful for times when your teen needs to get back to a dorm or house late at night and is by himself. Have him be sure to ask the taxi driver to wait until he physically enters his housing unit before leaving.
Your new college student should keep the cell phone charged and with him at all times! Remind him to be careful of using geotracking software or “check-in” features found on many social media apps such as Four Square , Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook to identify a current location. That can open up all kinds ‘o trouble.
3. The Buddy System works!
Whether it’s a roommate, a fraternity brother or sorority sister, or a friend down the hall, stress the importance of always letting someone know your college student’s plans and location. Have your teen share her class schedule with a friend or two and do casual check-ins when she returns. If heading to the gym, cafeteria or library, again just touch base and let a friend know her plans. Encourage her to ALWAYS bring a friend along to any party, agreeing to have one another’s backs. It’s good to have an “out” contingency plan if one or both of them are uncomfortable — they should identify a code word or signal to help gracefully (and safely) exit the situation. It’s amazing how often that comes in handy!
4. Be aware of your surroundings.
Whether it’s walking to class, studying at a quiet table at the back of the library, taking a shower in the dorm or parking the car, it is vitally important to be vigilant of surroundings. Encourage your teen to ask…
- Are there people around me?
- Is this a well-lit area?
- Have I told someone where I was going to be and at what time to expect my return?
- Do I really know the person from whom I’m accepting this ride to class?
- Are my doors locked?
If your teen ever thinks s/he is being followed while walking, instruct your teen to try crossing the street to see if the person continues the pursuit. If that person does and your teen is at all uncomfortable, tell him/her to immediately pull out the cell phone and dial 911 or the pre-programmed number for campus police. If followed while driving, have your teen try taking a few turns —if the vehicle of concern continues to follow, immediately dial 911.
5. Lock your doors.
This seemingly simple concept is often overlooked. This includes dorm rooms, apartments, classrooms and labs (if your college student is alone) and car doors. S/he should make a habit of having his/her keys ready when arriving at the door to avoid fumbling around for them. Before getting in a car, s/he should be sure to check the back seats. Also, DO NOT attach any personal identification on any keys.
6. Drink responsibly.
Let’s face it… alcohol is accessible on most college campuses. Parents, it is imperative that you talk with your teens about responsible drinking, a conversation that should include abstinence. The legal drinking age in the United States is 21 and there are very real and severe legal, and life, consequences for underage drinking. It may feel like a tough conversation to have, but it’s one where you need to share your personal parenting perspective with your child, as well as possible legal ramifications for your teens should they choose to break the law and consume alcohol before they reach the legal drinking age. It also means if your teen chooses to drink, s/he needs to know to NEVER get behind the wheel of a car… or ride in a vehicle driven by someone else who has been drinking… or let a friend drive drunk. Also, be sure to share with him/her the dangers of leaving drinks (both non- and alcoholic) unattended. If a drink is left alone, it should be dumped. Finally, reinforce the importance of the Buddy System.
7. If you are ever a victim of sexual assault… DO NOT keep it a secret!
Sadly, rape and sexual assault happen far too often on college campuses. Various studies have found that 20% to 25% of college students have been victims of attempted or completed rape… nearly half of those victims didn’t tell anyone about their assault —and only an estimated 10% report it to authorities. Why, you may ask? There are a variety of reasons including shame, feeling responsible, guilt, or even fear of getting in trouble for drinking or taking drugs. According to Campus Safety Magazine, “College freshmen and sophomore women appear to be at greater risk of being victims of sexual assault than are upperclassmen.” In fact, 84% of the college women who reported incidents said the assaults occurred within their first four semesters on campus. Remind your teen that it could never, ever be her fault if something like that happened to her. Reinforce the importance of the Buddy System and making good, safe decisions about the people with whom she is socializing.
A flagship online system now exists, called Callisto Campus, which gives students who are victims of sexual assault (or attempted sexual assault) disclosure and reporting options that make them feel safe. I strongly recommend that you visit the Callisto Campus website and actively advocate for your son or daughter’s school to participate in this new and critical resource.
8. Guard your social media footprint.
In today’s digital world, nearly every action you take has the potential to be publicly shared. Things your teen may think are okay or cool today, could very well come back to haunt him/her. Reinforce the importance of NOT sharing photos that include images with the potential to taint your teen’s reputation with the college or university, scholarship programs or potential future employers. A good litmus test: “If you can’t show the post to Grandma, DO NOT post it!”
9. Have your fellow students’ backs.
Students really need to look out for one another. Have your teen keep a watchful eye out for friends and fellow students while out-and-about on campus… and seek help as needed. If s/he sees someone being victimized, immediately call 911 or contact the campus police. Students on campus are in it together and looking out for one another does nothing but improve the college experience for all.
10. “Remember who you are.”
These four simple words pack quite a punch and offer a positive reminder to kids that you trust them to make good decisions while they are away from you. I highly recommend this simple, empowering validation– it works!
Want more information?
In addition to reviewing the campus student safety information for your young adult’s campus, I encourage to check out these websites that offer additional super safety information for all students on campus:
About Sue ♥
Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.
About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥
The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.