For many co-eds, college sex is a social rite of passage. They're leaving home and family for the first time, and that dangling carrot of ultimate freedom is finally within their grasp. Eighteen-year-olds can't wait to be unsupervised, without a curfew and with the freedom and opportunity to experiment, sexually or otherwise. Here's how to handle your child's newfound freedom.
College is a time of discovery. Young adults are figuring out who they are and who they want to become. Sexual choices fit into that equation. Though your child won't be sharing every decision with you, and you may not agree with all the choices he makes, these differences of opinion are a sign that you're doing something right.
"Parental involvement and support are much more effective when they foster psychological separation and independence. The adolescent needs to feel secure and safe enough to explore different roles, beliefs and values," says Ricardo Rieppi, PhD, a licensed psychologist in New York City. "It's imperative that parents allow their adolescents to struggle, make their choices and deal with the consequences, learn from errors and find solutions along the way."
If you familiarize yourself with the lingo your child uses and the situations with which she's dealing, you'll be more likely to appreciate the temptations, peer pressure and ramifications they're encountering away at college. You'll also be better equipped to support her in her trials, successes and heartbreaks.
Now that you have a better perspective on what your co-ed is dealing with at college, remember: No matter how young or old he is, it's never too early or too late to show your child that you support him. After all, he is experiencing freshman jitters that match your parental anxiety -- combinations of excitement, joy, anxiety, sadness, pride, and loss, says Rieppi. He's still going to need Mom and Dad from time to time. So let your child know that you're ready and willing to discuss any questions or concerns about sex and will respect his point of view. You're both embarrassed about these talks, but he will be unwilling to share if he fears being judged, so do your best to create a comfortable environment and open dialog.
"Given that most college students drop out because of personal difficulties in adjusting to the new setting, parents must provide their children with the necessary tools to manage the new transition," Rieppi explains. "Providing an accepting and empathic stance is important and is more likely to create open, trusting communication."
While this kind of environment is best created at home before college begins, establishing an honest back-and-forth between you and your child at some point -- even the week before your teen officially becomes a college freshman -- officially opens the lines of communication so your child will know she can turn to you no matter what goes wrong with her college relationships.
"Parents should discuss the responsibilities and consequences of sex, such as protection and sexually transmitted diseases. Parents cannot control their adolescents' behavior; they can only help their children consider the pros and cons and take responsibility for their choices and actions," Rieppi says.
Though you may not approve of your child's sexual choices, knowing that you have done all that you can as a parent to remove the taboo around youth and sexuality and to create an ongoing dialog about sex will help you foster a knowledgeable, respectful and safety-minded co-ed, says Bruce.
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