male college prepYou may have already read yesterday’s blog on preparing your daughter for college. Much of my advice for girls, of course, also pertains to boys (and vice versa). I’m writing two separate posts only for the purpose of getting people to read this content, not to differentiate. I added one section here for boys (on alcohol and risks) not because it’s an issue for boys only. In fact, we know that 1 out of every 5 high school girls binge drinks (see below).

If you have a boy heading off to college this fall there are a few things to know to help improve his safety and success this year. Of anything I know from my experience being a previous school teacher, and now pediatrician and mom to boys (still 10 years away from college!) the transition from HS to college-age is one steeped in emotion for all. In addition to the tips I’ve provided for girls, alcohol and the HPV vaccine are topics to discuss to ensure it’s a better and safer year for your son (or daughter) this year.

ONE: Safe Sex & Birth Control – What Your Teen Son May Need To Know:

  • 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 a STD test kit in the mail and have it paid for my many insurers? Let your son know about the option if he has questions or concerns he wants to discuss from the privacy of his room!
  • Condoms are clearly a fantastic barrier method to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STI) and they also support birth control efforts for boys with female partners. Make sure your son has access to them; I say stuff condoms in his pockets on the way out the door!  Let him know that he shouldn’t be embarrassed by the thought of going into a store and purchasing condoms and that accessing condoms at college health centers is typically easy. Using them every single time he has a sexual encounter is not only safer for partners, he continues to protect his own health — this is just one way he can treat himself well.
  • Boys can help prevent unplanned pregnancies by ensuring partners have protection but also by knowing his access to emergency contraception (EC) for female partners when unprotected sex occurs. This is often known to teens by the brand name, “Plan B.” Boys and girls can buy this over-the-counter everywhere in the U.S. Plan B (and other EC) can be used up to 5 days after sex to prevent a pregnancy from occurring after unprotected sex. It works best if used early (within first couple days) so no reason to wait. Emergency contraception is available without a prescription but it can be expensive. Getting a prescription from a pediatrician or health provider can help. Perhaps tell your son if he ever needs it you’ll foot the bill, no questions asked?

TWO: Vaccines For College-Age Students

I think a lot of parents know it’s important to get your daughter the HPV vaccine, but this is my reminder that boys need it too!  In fact, the AAP recommends it for all children starting at age 11. If your son is heading off to college, make sure he starts the 3-shot series before leaving and then follow up each time he’s home visiting for the final 2 shots. Vaccinating your son against HPV not only protects him (from genital warts or rare cancers) but his potential, future female partners, too. HPV vaccine is an anti-oral-throat-and-cervical cancer vaccine!

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 boys 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 son the first dose before leaving for college, you can do the booster doses when he’s home on holiday break. College students are considered high risk in part because of their close living quarters.

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 son, I’d ensure he was getting this shot before heading off to college but talk with your child’s health provider for more information about his 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 son can send a text to 741-741 and someone will respond 24/7. Put that number into your son’s cell contacts after you discuss the option.
  • Make sure your son 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.

Google Suicide

FOUR: Alcohol- Staggering Statistics

No question that sharing your thoughts and wisdom about the dangers of alcohol and drugs is influential on your child. Having a conversation explicit about risk and smarter choices will always be worth your time. A few statistics from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to motivate:

  • 80% of college students (boys and girls) have tried alcohol and while that may not surprise you it’s also true that 3 million college students drink and drive each year. Annually, 500,000 college students are injured in a resulting accident.
  • 400,000 college students have had unsafe sex after drinking. No question that we know teens and young adults often don’t follow through intentionally on their choice to abstain from sexual intercourse at times and no question that alcohol changes choices. Be clear about this risk and provide your advice about helping your teen make safer decisions.
  • Discuss the potential consequences of underage drinking. I often frame this topic in clinic about cars and the huge risks (and legal risks) there. Things like DUIs, MIPs, getting in a car with someone who has been drinking, binge drinking & hazing should be top priorities for conversation. I like the Health Alliance on Alcohol as a resource to learn how to talk to your teen about drinking.