It seems like just yesterday that you were sending your little ones off to kindergarten. But as this summer draws to an end, you’re packing up the car with supplies to stock your kiddo’s dorm room.
College is a new adventure for both you and your kids, and as with any new experience, it comes with some potential pitfalls — especially when it comes to health and wellness. Kyle Oholendt, MD, internal medicine physician and pediatrician on the medical staff at Methodist Charlton Medical Center, offers these eight tips to share with your kids to help them steer clear of certain health traps as they start this next chapter in their lives.
- Get vaccinated. First things first: Make sure your teens are caught up on all their vaccines. The meningitis B vaccine might not be required by your campus, but it is an important defense against the bacterial infection that is easily spread on college campuses through sharing drinks, coughing, kissing, and other personal contact.
- Don’t share. In the same vein, mononucleosis (mono for short) is commonly spread when there are a lot of people in close quarters. Don’t share drinks with friends or make a habit of using the same utensils in the dining hall. Mono can also be shared through coughing, sneezing, or kissing, just like meningitis.
- Wear shower shoes. Oh the joys of sharing a bathroom! Make sure to wear a pair of shower shoes, such as flip-flops, every time you head to the communal bathroom. This will help you avoid catching a nasty case of athlete’s foot or other fungal infection.
- Eat fresh. Ramen and other cheap eats seems synonymous with college, but 24/7 pizza and Pop-Tarts® can make you feel sluggish and won’t provide you with the nutrients needed to bring your A-game to class. Try to enjoy plentiful helpings of fruits and veggies when visiting the cafeteria.
- Sleep. This one seems obvious, but again, when students have the freedom to stay up all night or feel the need to study just a few more hours, sleep might take the back burner. Healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, and when they start getting less than that, the effects can include clumsiness, irritability, weight gain, depression, and impaired judgement.
- Bring a first-aid kit. Every student should head off to college with a basic first-aid kit. Adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes, and antibiotic ointment are must-haves. It’s also a good idea to stock up on things for cold and flu season or any other minor illness that might come up. Include a thermometer, a pain reliever like ibuprofen, an allergy-relief medication, and something for cold symptoms with a cough suppressant. Students will be glad to have these supplies on hand the first time they feel under the weather and mom isn’t there to help.
- Take a break. All work and no play make Jack a stressed boy. A full course load, extracurricular activities, a part-time job or internship, and all that studying can seem overwhelming. Students should schedule time to chill. Take a walk, join a rec sport league, go see a movie — anything to relax your mind for a bit.
- Check in with yourself. Mental health on college campuses is a growing topic of conversation, which makes sense when you consider that college marks a huge life transition. It can be challenging to students’ emotional health and well-being. A 2018 report from the American College Health Association found that 55 percent of students surveyed felt “things were hopeless” and 63 percent felt “overwhelming anxiety” at some time in the past year.
If you’re feeling down, know that you are not alone and that many other college students have been through this. Parents can help their students find the information for mental health resources on campus, which are often free. And parents can read more about preparing your kids for liftoff.
“Getting vaccinated is definitely high on the list of health priorities,” Dr. Oholendt says. “But good mental health is absolutely vital for the success of a kid going to college.”
Each of these tips will help students keep their physical and emotional health a priority. Talk to your kids about how they are feeling about heading to school, and make sure that they know they can come to you if they are struggling.
SET YOUR STUDENT UP FOR SUCCESS
To check in on vaccines and make sure your kids have a healthy start, find a doctor to set up a physical for your student.