So your baby’s grown up and gone away to college.
You’ve packed her full of good advice and loaded her up with enough technology
so that you could find her at the bottom of the sea, if it came to that. But no
matter how independent college students become, nearly every parent gets that
call home at some point: “Mom, I’m so sick.”
It’s a helpless feeling, and you might wrestle with
a decision to go visit or bring your child back. Typical ailments for college
students include viruses, gastrointestinal infections or "stomach flu,”
mononucleosis and food poisoning. A university health service also fields
cases of sexually transmitted diseases and injuries from accidents—some which
involve alcohol. (These of course, happen only to other people’s children.)
You can’t drop everything to tend to each new boo-boo, but there are things you can do to help prevent trips to the clinic.
“It is very common for college students to get
colds and the flu. This happens most often around midterms and finals
season. Stress lowers the immune system and makes it easier to ‘catch
bugs,’” says Nerina Garcia-Arcement, a licensed clinical psychologist at New
York University School of Medicine.
You can’t drop everything to tend to each new boo-boo, but there are
things you can do to help prevent trips to the clinic and, in the
worst-case-scenario, the emergency room.
“Parents can help by offering support, reminding their kids to
practice stress management, socialize to reduce isolation and increase social
support, eat well and exercise. Care packages that encourage this are
encouraged,” says Arcement.
A big part of preparation for college is to make sure your kids have
the basics of self-care down, says Dr. Claudia
Borzutzky, Lead Physician at University Park Health Center for University of
Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. That includes:
Regular exercise, healthy diet, adequate sleep (at least six to seven
hours a night for most people)
Frequent hand washing during cold and flu season
Responsible use of alcohol and avoidance of binge drinking
Safe sexual practices
Use of bicycle helmets and respect for traffic and safety regulations on
A primer on over-the-counter medications, most of which will
suffice for the following: regular coughs, colds and flus that last less than a week or do not
cause fevers over 100.5 degrees, shortness of breath or dizziness.
Borzutzky says it’s also important to make sure kids understand their new campus's student health center hours
and what kind of care they can access there. They should have a copy of their
health insurance card and know what to do in an urgent medical situation.
You’ll also want to ensure that your kids'
vaccinations are all up to date, including meningococcal vaccination, HPV
vaccination (now recommended for both women and men), and annual influenza
vaccination or the “flu shot,” especially for those with asthma or other chronic
One thing that may frustrate you, as your college
student grows into adulthood, is that while you can always provide information
about your child’s health to his doctor, you no longer can request information
without your child’s written permission. If your child is under 18, privacy
laws for issues such as mental health, drug use and reproductive health vary
depending on the state.
“Learning to deal with minor illnesses without a
parent close by is part of the separation and maturation process older adolescents
need to go through as they approach young adulthood,” Borzutzky says, “However, in the
case of more significant or prolonged injuries or illnesses, students will need
to use their own best judgment about their ability to cope on their own without
extra support, and parents and family are, of course, an essential part of
their care and recovery when that is not the case.”