Happy Graduation! Now: Let's Talk About Sex

Happy Graduation! Now: Let's Talk About Sex

If you have children who are graduating from high school and going off to college, it is time to give them “the talk.” It is not the talk that we baby boomers heard when we went off to school. This one is a bit more complicated.

Avoid the Freshman 15
When I went to college, I gained the freshman 15 x2. That’s right. I gained 30 pounds. You don’t want your kids to do that. I had carefully watched my diet when I was in high school. It was easy because my mother was a health nut and we only had healthy food at home.

When I went to college there suddenly were so many choices. There was a salad bar, dessert bar, potatoes, bread, pizza and beer. The drinking age was 18 when I went to school, so in addition to eating a lot, I drank a lot (more on that next). I did not know how fattening beer was at the time. It is amazing how fast I put the weight on and how hard it was to take it off.

To avoid unhealthy weight gain, remind your children to eat as many whole foods as possible, such as fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. They may eat more processed foods like chips and cheese curls, but they should at least aim to counter that with some whole foods.

Even though they are going to get caught up in school, suggest that they find ways to exercise. It will help keep their weight down and will help them to focus.

The Drinking Epidemic
Binge drinking on college campuses has become epidemic. It is defined for young men as having more than 5 drinks in one sitting and for young women having 4 drinks or more in one sitting. A recent Harvard study has found that 51 percent of boys at college and 40 percent of girls binge drink and 44 percent of college students had done it within two weeks of the study. One in four students reported binging at least three times a week.

Doing shots or heavy drinking may seem like a “cool” activity to teens, but we all know it is extremely dangerous and can cause a world of hurt. Here are some startling statistics. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in a given year looking at college students between the ages of 18 and 24, binge drinking resulted in 1825 deaths, 599,000 injuries, 690,000 assaults, 97,000 cases of sexual abuse, 400,000 cases of unprotected sex with 100,000 reporting they were too drunk to know if they consented, 150,000 alcohol related health problems and 2.8 million people driving drunk. One quarter of these students suffered academically and had health issues such as insomnia. One percent reported being raped by an out of control intoxicated peer.

The bottom line is that binge drinking increases the likelihood that your children will suffer a sexual assault and get in one heap of trouble.

Talk with your children about how to have fun without the binging. They can hold a drink to “fit in” and never even take a sip, for example. Help them figure out strategies in advance so that they can avoid the drinking game gracefully.

Drugs: Just Say No Again
You’ve probably already spent some time teaching your kids to “just say no.” But at college they will probably be exposed to marijuana, psychedelics, ecstasy, prescription painkillers and adderall. Now is a good time to remind them that drugs change their brain chemistry and some of these changes can be permanent.

Also caution your children to be careful if they go to a club or party. They should always go with a friend and never leave their drink. It is very easy to slip a date rape drug into one. With a buddy and smart thinking, they can avoid becoming a victim.

Know Your STDs
When I went to college, the major worry was how to avoid pregnancy. Now, in addition to not getting pregnant, there are so many things to worry about. One out of every four college students is infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The most common is human papilloma virus or HPV. It causes genital warts and is the most common cause of cervical cancer. It can also cause oral and anal cancer. It has no symptoms so it is easily spread. Infection can occur with sexual and skin-to-skin contact.

Chlamydia is the second most common STI, which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and can result in infertility. If diagnosed it can be treated with antibiotics. Many women are symptomatic but often men have no symptoms.

The third most common infection is genital herpes. One in five college students are infected. There is no cure but there are medicines to reduce the length of outbreaks.

Condoms can protect against the latter two. The Gardasil vaccine can protect against HPV. If your teens are on drugs or drunk they are less likely to use protection. This opens them up to these infections as well as HIV, hepatitis B (for the unvaccinated), gonorrhea and syphilis. These infections are less frequent among college students but they are out there and they can cause serious illness and even death.

Knowledge is power. By arming your kids with what they need to know (or be reminded about!), you’ll be setting them up to have the time of their lives at college! They won’t just have smarts, they’ll BE smart.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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