If you have a daughter getting ready to head to college this fall, holy moly I’m excited for you. In clinic it’s clear to me that the huge transition from high school to college-age brings great joy but also a remarkable sense of unrest for everyone, too. Vaccines, birth control, and suicide prevention may not top your to-do list while packing the car but there’s no question these are 3 things you can check in on to ensure it’s a better and safer year for your daughter. Not only is a brand new meningitis vaccine available to college-age girls this fall, included here are reminders with ways to support your daughter and her health as she heads off to learn even more…
ONE: Birth Control Options For Your Teen Daughter
1. Amazing Resources To Prevent Unwanted Pregnancy
The CDC confirms that as girls head off to college we know over 40% of them have had sex. And although 4 in 5 of them used a form of birth control the last time they had sex, only about 5% are using the most effective forms to prevent pregnancy.
- Did you know if you live in Washington State or Minnesota you can have a video visit with a Planned Parenthood provider online, and then receive birth control and/or an STD test kit in the mail? Let your daughter know.
- I recommend familiarizing yourself and your teen with Bedsider. Bedsider is an online birth control support network for women 18-29 operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a private non-profit organization. Their goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively. Great pictures and descriptions, a place to opt-in for a daily oral birth control pill reminder, and education galore.
2. Unplanned Pregnancies are Down
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports sex education that includes information about both abstinence and birth control. And although talking about abstinence is important we also know that many teens have a difficult time following through on their commitment to abstinence while at college. Great news is that unplanned pregnancies for teens went down 10% from 2012 to 2013 but we can do a better job getting girls on birth control that is less likely to fail.
3. Preferred First Line are Implants, IUDs & Depo Shots
- Instead of thinking only about abstinence and oral birth control, do know that implants and intrauterine devices (IUD) are recommended as FIRST LINE for pregnancy prevention for teens and young women. These long-acting reversible option last years (implants last 3 years, IUDs can stay put for 5-10 years before they need to be removed or replaced).
- College years can be chaotic and schedules often change. The long-acting reversible birth control from an IUD or an implant are safe for teens, doesn’t require daily attention and do not cause infertility in teen girls. The IUDs and implants are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Centers for Disease Control & American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
- REMINDER: Teens don’t always need a pelvic exam before initiating birth control if no underlying health concerns or symptoms. I explain more here in this quick video.
4. Myth Busting & Takeaways:
- Most birth control is well-tolerated with few side effects, this includes implants, IUDs, long-acting shots, and oral birth control.
- Emergency contraception (things like “Plan B”) can be used up to 5 days after sex to prevent a pregnancy from occurring after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception is available without a prescription but it can be expensive for high school and college-age girls. Getting a prescription from their pediatrician or health provider can help.
- Plan B can be used in girls and women of child bearing age
- IUDs & implants are great options for teen girls and young women for long-acting, safe birth control.
TWO: Vaccines For College-Age Students
You may have heard news about the Meningitis B (serogroup) vaccine now available to teens over age 16. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) panel members approved a recommendation that says teens, along with their doctors and families, can opt in to get meningitis B vaccines between ages 16 and 23. Here’s the official CDC information sheet about the vaccine. Basically, know that girls are immunized against bacterial meningitis at age 11 and age 16 that covers 4 different types of bacteria that cause meningitis. The new vaccine expands protection by including a new serogroup (B). The immunization is offered either as 2 doses (given at least 1 month apart) or 3 doses (given over 6 months) so if you get your daughter the first dose before leaving for college, you can do the booster doses when she’s home on holiday break.
For perspective on what can happen with meningitis here’s a KOMO radio segment about a boy who lost his legs to Meningitis B. It’s heart breaking and a real reminder that this is a preventable disease. Bacterial meningitis is rare but when it infects a child, even with treatment it can be deadly in 10-15 out of 100 infections. If it were my daughter, I’d ensure she was getting this shot before heading off to college but talk with your child’s health provider for more information about her opportunity to be immunized.
THREE: Emotional and Mental Preparedness
Going off to college is clearly a big deal and learning is not confined to the classroom! It doesn’t matter if your child is attending school close to home or across the country, it feels like a huge change. There will be moments and feelings of both freedom and homesickness for you both.
- I think it’s important to set expectations on how you will communication with each other: phone calls, texts, emails, Skype…however your family likes to stay connected.
- Don’t underestimate the value of sleep…teens still need 8.5 – 9.5 hours of sleep. Remind them how much better they can deal with challenges after a night of rest. Sleep benefits mood, test-taking ability, and sports performance.
- If stressed, depressed, suicidal or concern about self-harm your daughter can send a text to 741-741 and someone will respond 24/7. Put that number into your daughter’s cell contacts after you discuss the option.
- Make sure your daughter has a suicide crisis/prevention phone number saved in her phone. Did you know if you type “suicide” into Google, the first thing that renders the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline? For more read this NYT article: Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection. I love this (!): read this NYT article that highlights advice and tips from 25 upperclassmen, recent graduates and NYT readers to college-bound freshman.