In this week’s column, I will raise with you a very basic issue that is of concern to each and every current or future college parent – the physical and mental health of your son or daughter.

While I am certainly not a health-care professional myself (college-level chemistry did me in on that score), we at College Parents of America are dedicated to finding and providing to you the very best medical information as it relates to preparing your teen for the college years.

In scouring the landscape on this topic, we became aware of some excellent work that was done by Dr. Lawrence Neinstein, a leading specialist in adolescent healthcare, under the auspices of the Society of Adolescent Medicine.

Neinstein suggests first and foremost that, no matter the age of your child, you start talking about health issues and “don’t ever stop.”

The issues to talk about include:

  • Independence and confidentiality: the key points are to help facilitate your child’s ability to function and make decision on his or her own, and to respect that, with adulthood, comes the right to confidentiality (from a legal perspective) over medical information. 
  • The necessity of a pre-college health exam: this ensures that all relevant medical information is up-to-date. 
  • Immunizations: an important, yet complicated, issue, this is an essential component of bringing information “up-to-date.” Recommended vaccines pre-college include hepatitis A and B and meningococcal meningitis. 
  • Medical records and prescriptions: it is an excellent idea to have your primary-care physician send the campus health center a summary of your child’s care, particularly if he or she has any type of chronic medical problems. 
  • First-aid supplies: Dr, Neinstein advises that one of the first questions your child will be asked if he or she calls a campus health center with an infection is: “Have you taken your temperature?” Don’t let your child be embarrassed by the response: “I don’t have a thermometer,” or, even worse, “I don’t know how to take my temperature.” A basic health-care supply kit should take care of the above, as well as the inevitable scrapes and bruises. 

Two more items that are important to have understandings with your children about – the details of your family’s health insurance, and the times when it makes sense to visit a student health center versus a local hospital where, as we know, charges can sometimes rack up.

Helen Johnson, a noted author on parent relations, puts it this way: “The vast majority of college students do well academically and stay physically and mentally healthy; however, too many students today stumble into high-risk behaviors and situations, unaware of the dangers and consequences.”

I don’t quote Ms. Johnson to alarm you, but to simply arm you with the knowledge that while you cannot control your child’s daily behavior, you can still have influence in lowering his or her risks associated with going to college away from home. Ms. Johnson has many cogent thoughts on how to accomplish this, but I think that the following is the most important. She suggests that you leave this thought with your child as part of a “goodbye talk,” whether at the start of a school year, or perhaps even after the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday:

“There are many people on campus who can help you if you are in trouble. I expect you to use the resources that are available to you. I believe that asking for help is a sign of strength, NOT OF WEAKNESS.”

I added the all-caps to the end of Ms. Johnson’s advice. Don’t we all think back to times in our lives when we wish that we would have asked for help, but instead tried “to be brave” and soldier on alone? And how now we wished that we had done things differently?

We continue to soldier for you at College Parents of America, and we welcome your feedback on this and any other issue that concerns you as a current or future college parent.