Sending your teenager off to college is an emotional time — just ask the teary Beckham family as they said goodbye to son Brooklyn in August, or the Ripa/Consuelos clan who recently bid farewell to their eldest, Michael. But before that college drop-off happens, it’s important to complete these seven health steps in between picking up a set of XL twin sheets.
“When your child goes away to college, that’s really hard as a parent,” Dr. Elizabeth Murray, a pediatrician specializing in pediatric emergency medicine and child health advocacy and a member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad, says. “We know that it’s a wonderful moment and we’re excited for them and want them to go off and be successful, but we also miss them and worry about them.”
To ease parents’ concerns, Dr. Murray says the first step is scheduling an appointment with your child’s doctor. “There’s going to be a ton of forms that need to be completed,” she explains. The doctor will also know your child’s vaccination history, and can give them the booster shots they need.
“Many teens will require one or two booster shots before they go off to school, and each school is going to say exactly what they need,” she says. “It occasionally differs based on what part of the country you’re in, but it’s the same ones for the most part, usually the hepatitis A vaccine, a tetanus shot, and the meningitis vaccine.”
Next, Dr. Murray advises figuring out a prescription plan if your teen regularly takes medication.
“Make a plan for who is going to prescribe those moving forward,” she says. “This is especially important for people with ADHD, because some of these medicines have very specific rules for prescribing them. You can’t just assume that you can go off to school and a new doctor is going to prescribe them for you — you have to have a plan.”
Figuring out the health care situation at college is also important for when your teen inevitably gets sick.
“This isn’t a time for Dr. Google,” Dr. Murray says. “Know how your school works — do they have a health center or infirmary that is open 24/7? If not are there local urgent cares? What is your plan going to be if you have various symptoms? Run the plan through with your parents for what you’re going to do if you have a fever or a cold. There’s actually a great app from the Red Cross, their first aid app, and it tells you where local urgent cares are in the area.”
And when your teen does go to see someone, make sure they can talk through their medical history — things like past broken bones, hospital stays or any allergies.
“If something happens and you end up in an emergency situation where you need to explain it to someone, you need to be able to clearly communicate your own history,” Dr. Murray says. “I work in an emergency department and I always say that I think freshman orientation should include a pep talk on how you take care of yourself, and what to do when you get sick, because you will get sick and mom won’t be there to take care of you.”
There’s also two weighty topics that deserve a discussion before your child leaves — drinking and sexual health.
“Have the conversation about drinking with your kid,” Dr. Murray says. “Tell them that there are laws in place for a reason, but there is going to be pressures to experiment and try to drink, and it can have very real consequences — not only from a health and safety perspective, but kids can get kicked out of school for that as well. Set expectations ahead of time of what’s going to be acceptable for your family.”
And while you may have already had the sex talk with your child, bring it up again as they prepare to live with less supervision in a dorm.
“For both males and females, sexual health is really important,” she says. “Yes, there’s questions about pregnancy control, but STD prevention is just as important as well. Both people in the couple have responsibility to prevent those things.”
Finally, reassure your teen that you’re there for them, no matter what.
“Have these conversations and say that were always here for you, even if you’ve made some choices that you regret, we want to know about it and we want to be there and we want to help you with it,” Dr. Murray says. “Don’t ever be afraid to call us if you need us.”