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Staying Safe in College
College offers most young people a wonderful opportunity to grow up, to learn how to take care of themselves and keep themselves safe. But it is that safety issue that worries parents. In addition to major and terrifying events like the shootings at Northern Illinois University and other campuses, there are many ways in which college kids can find themselves in trouble. If you have children going off to college, you probably are worrying about how you can help keep them safe, even when you aren’t physically there.
First, know as much as you can about the potential dangers on the campus your children are attending. Obviously, large schools in urban areas have more risks than small schools in rural areas. But no school is completely safe. You usually can ask for specific information about campus safety from the college or university. You also can check crime statistics for many schools at the U.S. Education Department’s Web site for post-secondary education.
Then, have a conversation with your kids about how to deal with issues and dangers that may come up. Remind them that the more aware and prepared they are, the less likely it is that something bad will happen to them.
Being on your own is one of the great things about college, and those years are the time when most young people learn to take care of themselves. But those lessons can be hard ones, and occasionally, they can have permanent consequences.
Tell your students to be aware of the dangers of behavior choices, such as drinking, drugs and sex. Alcohol poisoning is a significant problem on campuses, and drinking games are ubiquitous. Illegal drugs, including prescription drugs, also often are readily available. Drinking and drug use can be health hazards on their own, and they also can lead young people to make bad decisions in other areas, such as driving or sex.
Your kids probably have heard about all the dangers of sex, but remind them that those dangers are real, and that being on their own may make the opportunities more frequent. Perhaps the single most important thing your students can do to stay safe is to exercise caution in their personal behavior.
Warn your students not to undermine the college’s security system. Every college has some sort of dorm security, from a room key to an electronic pass card. Remind your students that, even though it can be a pain to take out the key or card to open the door, they should do it. They should never leave their room unlocked or put something in the dorm door to keep it open – even if they’ll be right back. And they should not lend their key or pass card to people they don’t know well.
They should not wander around alone, especially at night or in isolated places, and most especially if they are female. If they are going to be out late, they should try to be out with – and come back with – a group. Many colleges offer security escorts for students after dark. If their school does, and if they need such an escort, they should call.
First, they should know how to get out in case of a fire. Know where the fire exits are, in the dorm, in the library and in any other building they frequent. The college should have installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the dorm rooms; if not, get some before you leave.
Your students should not create fire hazards in their room, or anywhere else. That means no burning candles or incense. No leaving the coffeepot or the hair straightener or the iron plugged in. And no overloading the electrical system. Most colleges have rules about what kind of and how many appliances are allowed in the rooms. Tell your students to follow those rules.
Make sure that your students can get in touch with you in an emergency. If there is an incident on campus, you want to know right away that they are safe. Also, have your contact information input into their phone as an emergency contact. You probably won’t need these precautions, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.