Whether you’re preparing to drop your child off at college or planning for their first visit home, it’s important to consider how your young adult’s health and well-being will be impacted by such a significant life transition. From vaccines to nutrition and mental health, there are many ways parents can help their children navigate the first few months “on their own.”
Find out about vaccines. For good preventive health, be sure to ask your primary care provider for information about vaccines for college-aged students. (College and university websites typically list specific vaccine requirements.) Several Indiana colleges are now requiring the meningitis B vaccine. There are two vaccines available for meningococcal (bacterial) meningitis—one that helps prevent infection from subgroups A, C, W and Y and another that guards against subgroup B. The meningitis B vaccine is a two-injection series, so scheduling one before the semester starts and the second over winter break is a good strategy.
Primary care providers also recommend that girls and boys be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause certain kinds of cancer. Before students head off to college is a good time to consider the HPV vaccine, if your child hasn’t already received it. For children under age 15, the HPV vaccine is a two-injection series, and for those over 15, a three-injection series is required.
Parents should also remind their college students to get a seasonal flu vaccine in the fall. Vaccines are available at local pharmacies and at most college and university health centers, or students can get a flu shot when returning home for fall break.
Talk about staying healthy. Living in a college environment offers both opportunities and challenges. As a parent, you know the areas in which your child is most vulnerable, so it’s important to find the right time to talk about issues that can affect their overall health and well-being. Conversations about nutrition, sleep, time management and drugs and alcohol are common among parents and children during this stage of life. Also, if you suspect that your child is having difficulty coping, is depressed or is abusing drugs or alcohol, consult your primary care provider for advice and resources. Most colleges and universities have on-campus counseling services available for students (often free or at low cost), and some primary care offices have therapists onsite.
Karuna Anantharaman, MD, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Primary Care – Allisonville and can be reached by calling the office at 317.678.3850.