At our annual meeting last night, we focused our discussion on how to talk to young people we care about as they prepare to leave for college about intimate partner violence. While sexual and dating violence have always been issues impacting college students, the recent media attention to this problem has left many parents and incoming college freshmen feeling a heightened sense of anxiety and concern for their safety. With statistics as high as 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men experiencing sexual assault while in college and 43% of dating college women reporting that they’ve experienced dating abuse, it is crucial that we talk early and often with the young people in our lives about safe and healthy relationships and intimacy. We often spend a lot of time talking with the young people we care about as they leave for college about basic life skills: how to do laundry, how to budget and open a bank account, how to balance their time to succeed academically. But when it comes to talking about another important life skill- how to have safe and healthy relationships- we may feel like we don’t know what to say. Here are some tips to help start these crucial conversations:
1. Learn about sexual assault and consent. Local organizations like REACH have lots of workshops and opportunities to learn more. Before you open up the conversation, make sure you feel prepared to answer questions. And if someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, offer the opportunity to learn together!
2. YouTube can be your friend! There are some great videos such as Tea and Consent and others from organizations like The One Love Foundation that offer humorous and engaging ways to tackle some difficult topics. Take some time to check out these videos on your own or with your loved one.
3. Encourage them to connect with adults on campus. Talk to your loved one about finding a trusted adult- such as a professor, a coach, or an advisor- that they feel they can trust and go to for any challenges that may come up during their time on campus. Connecting with a campus professional can help them grow professionally and academically, and that person can also be a good resource to turn to if they need support.
4. Learn about the school’s policies and protocols. Take some time together to learn about Title IX and what the school’s policies are for students who have experienced abuse or assault. Find out what resources are available to students who need support.
5. Learn about what they’re learning. Colleges are now requiring information about consent and abuse to be included in freshman orientation. Ask the school what tools they use and use this as an opportunity to ask your loved one about what they learned.
6. Talk to them about your experiences. College is a unique time in our lives- it’s a time when we gain more independence and learn who we are as adults. Think about your experiences as a young adult, and if there are things you’re glad you did or opportunities you wish you had taken.
7. Ask questions. What are they concerned about when they get to college? There’s so much in the media that can make many young people concerned about their safety when they get to school. See if you can open up a discussion by asking open ended question so you can think together about how they can stay safe and look out for others.
8. Have the conversation early and often. Whether your loved one decides to go to college or not, sexual assault and dating violence impact many young people in high school and in adulthood. Don’t wait till they are leaving for college orientation to start talking about how to have safe and healthy relationships.
Do you have questions that you didn’t get to ask at last night’s panel? Email them to our Director of Prevention Programs, Jessica Teperow, and look for a follow-up blog post in a few weeks!