By Peter Schoettler, pediatric resident at CHOC Children’s
Going off to college, or back for another semester, is an exciting time for teenagers, and for many this is their first experience with true independence. For many adolescents, this will be the first time they are managing their health care on their own! Preparation can help ensure a smooth transition for those leaving home. Preparing your teen will help them access the best care when needed. Here are some tips to make the transition to college successful.
- Review health insurance needs with your teen. They may need to sign up for their college’s health plan or still utilize your family’s health insurance. Be sure to provide them with a copy of their insurance card, as well as the contact information for their prior doctor.
- Make sure they have a complete list of all medications that they take, including over-the-counter medications, as sometimes these can react with new prescriptions.
- Having a list of chronic medical conditions is essential, as well as a list of any specialists that your teen sees. Your teen needs to be knowledgeable about any significant illnesses or surgeries they have had in the past.
- This is a great time to review your entire family’s health history, and discuss how healthy lifestyle choices can prevent many chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, liver and heart disease.
- Always have an extra copy of your immunization record! It will likely be required for college entry, but it’s also good for you and your teen to be familiar with the vaccines they have received in the past. Common vaccines needed before college include meningitis, tetanus and pertussis. Speak to your teen and their pediatrician about the HPV vaccine. Also remind them to get a flu shot every year. If you are planning on studying abroad, contact your physician or your school’s travel health center prior to traveling to other countries as many countries have illnesses not seen in the US and require extra vaccines.
- Have an open and honest dialogue about complex issues they may face related to drugs, alcohol, and sex. Be aware of potential warning signs of alcohol and drug abuse in teens. These vices become more accessible away from home, and having clear expectations with your teen is important. Continue to have conversations about peer pressures, good decisions, and consequences. Identify on-campus resources for reproductive healthcare and mental health.
Once your teen is settled into college, keep in touch with them as they transition into their new routine and responsibilities. It is common for adolescents to experience feeling sad or homesick. However, if these feelings persist for more than two weeks, it is essential to seek out help. Learn how to start the conversation about mental health. Each college should have specially trained counselors who are there to provide help and support. By acknowledging these issues before they arise, your teen is more likely to come to you for help if it is needed.