Should Parents Know about College Drinking?

August 30th, 2011 by The Responsibility Project

How far should student independence extend?

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The Responsibility Project

As college students excitedly prepare for a new school year and the sense of freedom it brings, parents often worry that such freedom might turn to irresponsibility. Binge-drinking tops the list of such parental concerns, and for good reason: a recent study by Blue Cross Blue Shield showed that binge drinking is the third-leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States.

Troubling as this is, should parents be notified if their child is caught with alcohol at school? Last year, The Washington Post’sJenna Johnson reported that “a growing list of colleges” now notify parents “every time a student younger than 21 is caught drinking, drunk, or in possession of alcohol.” School administrators, Johnson wrote, “have realized that in addition to levying official penalties, seeking parents’ help can bolster anti-drinking efforts. Research shows that parents can have a significant influence on their children’s drinking habits.”

But not all students support the drink-and-tell policies. When Virginia Tech beefed up its alcohol sanctions to include parental notification, students were “shocked,” said 21-year-old student body president Brandon Carroll. “If the school calls someone’s parent, that could put a lot of pressure on them. And how is that going to help?” he asked.

College administrators acknowledge that there’s a fine line between “honoring parents’ demands for information” and fostering student independence. But the bigger question, said one university student director, concerns the definition of adulthood. “There is no magical line between May of their senior year of high school and college,” said John Zacker, director of student conduct at the University of Maryland, which notifies parents when a student’s drinking threatens to get him or her kicked out of the dorms or school. “When do they really become a responsible adult?”

Do you think parents have a right to know if their son or daughter has been caught drinking? Or, should the matter remain strictly between the school and student?

(A portion of this story was previously published as “Drink and Tell” on The Responsibility Project on 4/23/10)