Sending your kid to college? Think about their health too.

For families that are sending their teens to college this fall, summer is full of anticipation and planning. There’s so much to buy and pack and think about that sometimes parents forget to think about something really important: their health. 

As parents, we are in charge of our child’s health—their diet, their exercise, their medications and what happens when they get sick. But when teens leave home, we need to be sure they can handle these things, and make good decisions, by themselves. Not that we can’t help out. I get lots of phone calls from my college-aged kids about health stuff, but it’s different when we’re not right there. Besides, this is something young adults need to learn to manage.

If your child has a chronic medical problem, it’s particularly important to make an appointment with your doctor and talk about how best to manage this. You’ll want to have copies of important records, and have some conversations ahead of time with a medical person at or near college, so that your child can get the care he or she needs It’s also important to have conversations with your child about what to do and when. Your doctor can help with all of this, including deciding whether you should contact a local specialist.

Whether or not your child is usually healthy, here are some tips:

Make sure your teen can get health care at college. There are two aspects of this:

  • There needs to be a place to go. Most colleges have some sort of health services, but hours may be limited, so students sometimes need to use local hospitals. Check it out ahead of time, so that your teen knows what to do if  he or she is feeling very sick or needs stitches on a Sunday afternoon (or in the middle of the night).
  • You need to pay for it.  Many colleges have health plans for a fee, if your child isn’t covered on your insurance. If your child is on your insurance, give them their health insurance card and make sure it goes in their wallet (as opposed to the bottom of a suitcase).

If your child takes prescription medication(s), plan ahead. See if you can get a 90-day supply through your insurance.  If not, you will need to find a way to either get medication to your child or find someone to prescribe it at college. This is not something you want to figure out when there’s one pill left.

Shop for supplies. When your teen goes to college, he leaves the bathroom cabinet behind. Here are a few things you should pack in a kit (along with hand sanitizer):

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen (or both)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Adhesive bandages (get one of those boxes with multiple sizes)
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Alcohol or other cleaning wipes
  • A thermometer
  • A pair of tweezers and  nail scissors
  • A refreezable ice pack
  • Multivitamins
  • Any over-the-counter medications your teen sometimes takes (such as allergy medication, antacids, laxatives, etc.)

Make some diet and exercise plans.  The Freshman 15 is common for all sorts of reasons—including the fact that parents aren’t around to provide and supervise healthy meals and make sure that teens are getting some exercise. Talk about foods they can and should eat and help them make a plan for when and how to exercise too. Being proactive can make all the difference.

Talk about risky behaviors. We all want to think that there is no way our teens will drink, have sex or do anything else like that at college. But the reality is that lots of them do. You can help keep your teen healthy by:

  • talking about the consequences of risky behavior (hopefully, by their age, they know this stuff, but it’s worth a review)
  • helping them think through scenarios ahead of time, including what they can say or do if being pressured to do something they don’t want to do, or what they should do if they need help
  • making sure they have the knowledge—and supplies—they need to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Your doctor can help with this. Speaking of whom, if you haven’t already…

Check in with your doctor. Your child may or may or may not need a visit, but check to see if there are any vaccines (such as a Menactra booster) or prescription refills or other things that need taking care of before he leaves. Call now, so you’re not scrambling to get an appointment the day before you have to be there!

For more information, check out “Healthy Tips for the College Freshman” from the American Academy of Pediatrics.