Urgent warning sent to parents as Lincoln welcomes back thousands of students

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — There’s just one full week left before tens of thousands of college students begin the fall semester here in Lincoln.

Both University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Southeast Community College start classes on August 22.

That’s why the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is sending an urgent warning to parents, about starting what it calls one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have with your children.  It’s talking about the danger of using alcohol.

At UNL, an organization called Big Red Resilience helps inform students on how to best handle these big life changes.

Lydia Coulson, the alcohol and drug prevention project manager, says the best way to create a healthy dialogue is by being honest and asking your child open-ended questions about the topic.

“Start the conversation and be really open to what your child or student may have to say. Don’t be shocked if maybe this is something that they are interested in trying in college,” Coulson said. “It’s not necessarily a unique experience for that to happen. Try to reserve judgment because you want your child to be comfortable talking to you.”

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found students are extremely vulnerable during the first six weeks of their first year in college.

About 25% of college students have reported academic consequences due to drinking.

That includes missing class, falling behind, and doing poorly on exams as well as papers.  All of this can lead to lower grades, and potentially put an abrupt end to their college career altogether.

Dr. Dave Miers, director of behavioral health services at Bryan Medical Center, says when you start the conversation, ask your child what they think instead of shutting down alcohol altogether.

“Let your youth, let your child talk about that, and let them voice their opinion. That’s much better than saying ‘Don’t do this when you go to college’,” says Miers. “It’s much better to let them make those decisions, and to sit down with them and be honest. Talk to them about the pros and cons.”

Physical violence also dramatically spikes when alcohol is abused during this vulnerable period.

Nearly 700,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 say they’ve been assaulted by another student who’s been drinking, every single year.  Then there’s the ultimate price.

“Recent statistics indicate 1,500 students between the ages of 18 and 24 die nationally each year. Other consequences include suicide attempts, health problems, injuries, unsafe sexual behaviors and driving under the influence,” according to Danielle Wing with the Division of Behavioral Health.

Researchers say while it’s difficult to determine as these cases are often under-reported, 20% of women in college are sexually assaulted.  The majority of the time alcohol or other substances are involved.

Both Couson and Miers say you should immediately reach out to help if you notice changes in your child’s behavior once they are at college.

Some symptoms of alcohol misuse are loss of appetite and withdrawing from friends and family.

Screening surveys are available on Big Red Resilience’s website and Bryan Health’s website as well to help determine the level of help that may be needed.

Coulson also pointed to a study UNL did that showed 35% of college students at UNL chose not to drink alcohol last year.

She says any students who are choosing to abstain from alcohol should know that they are not alone in that decision.

Despite the gravity of the situation, Miers wants to remind parents and students that this should be an exciting time of change.

He says there parents should have a healthy level of concern, but they should not be scared as their child leaves for school, and the best thing to do is to prepare them and be supportive.

“Our youth are going to be going off to college, and your child is going to be going off to college, and they’re going to be making a lot of decisions that they’re going to have to make on their own. We’re not going to be there to lend that advice to them right at that moment,” Miers said. “What we can do to help with that is to help prepare them right now, to help them start thinking about some of those things.”

Categories: Education News, Health, Lancaster, Nebraska News, News, Top Stories