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Virginia's Guide for Parents of First-Year College Students

Information to help your son or daughter make responsible decisions about the use of alcohol.

Pictures of college students.

A Turning Point

Your son or daughter is a first-year college student - what an exciting time! It is a period of preparation and anticipation, excitement and apprehension. This time represents at a turning point in your relationship with your son or daughter. He or she will be away from home, perhaps for the first time and may not admit it, but feels insecure in a new social setting and wants to fit in.

Brochure Cover

You can be a big help in your student's successful transition to college life. An informational brochure is now available that will help you talk with your son or daughter about underage drinking and for those of age, issues surrounding heavy drinking.

For full details, download the "Virginia's Guide for Parents of First-Year College Students" brochure (PDF File) or order copies from ABC's Education section.

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Summary of the "Guide for Parents of First-year College Students" Brochure:

Opportunities and Challenges

Most college students make responsible decisions about the use of alcohol. Yet balancing these new experiences can be difficult.

For many parents and young adults, bringing up the subject of alcohol is not easy. You may be unsure of when or how to begin and your student may try to dodge the conversation.

However, it is important for you to be aware of the risks and consequences associated with alcohol so you can prepare your student. Impaired judgment from drinking can lead to risky behavior causing academic, legal, and personal problems.

For years, scare tactics have been used in an effort to curb risky behavior; however, this strategy has proven cumbersome and inefficient. It is often more effective for you to help your student understand that "not everyone is doing it." They should be aware that students across Virginia are developing positive behaviors concerning drinking.


Where to Draw the Line. Show you care when you talk to your son or daughter. He or she is maturing, and college will bring more freedom. Be direct when discussing drinking at school and talking about safety, money, responsibility, life skills and academics. Along with expectations, it is important to discuss consequences.

Students have a responsibility to their campus-community. Show your interest by continuing the dialog once he or she is on campus. You need to draw the line, but understand your son or daughter is growing up. Most of all, believe in your own power to help them avoid trouble:

  • Be a role model.
  • Be factual and straightforward.
  • Information is always the best defense.
  • Avoid scare tactics.
  • Correct misperceptions.

It is important to talk with your son or daughter often. You do not need to cover every topic in one conversation. Lecturing will get you nowhere - providing information is the key.

Career Consequences

Young adults' decisions follow them into the future. Give them beneficial information to make wise choices.

Two students looking at laptop.You are investing in your son's or daughter's future by providing the knowledge and support to help him or her make informed decisions.

Students who drink heavily in college may not realize their full academic potential. In addition, the effects of drinking may reach beyond the classroom. Many companies routinely screen for drugs and alcohol before considering applicants for a job or internship. If a position has already been granted, the employer may withdraw the offer if a positive screening for drugs and/or alcohol is found.

Businesses are increasingly conducting extensive background checks on potential employees. Graduates may be denied employment opportunities as a result of alcohol-related criminal convictions. Even acquittals may remain on their permanent record. The fact is, drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, and it may have serious short- and long-term consequences.

The Laws in Virginia

All states and the District of Columbia have laws making 21 the minimum age to purchase or drink alcohol. Virginia's Zero Tolerance law makes driving under the influence of any amount of alcohol or drugs a serious criminal offense.

Young adults (ages 18 - 20) caught buying, possessing or drinking alcohol can lose their driver's license for up to a year, be fined up to $2,500 and face up to 12 months in jail.

Using a fake ID to buy alcohol means losing the right to drive for a year and a minimum fine of $500.

A driver, age 20 or younger, with a blood alcohol level between .02 and .07 could lose his or her license for up to six months. Impaired driving begins with the first drink.

Knowing the law is important, but it is not enough. It takes a commitment to personal responsibility to remain safe and alcohol-free. Talk with your son or daughter about these issues before he or she heads off to school and continue talking with them while they are on campus.

Parental Notification

Parental notification became a part of Virginia law in 1998. Congress gave colleges and universities the ability to disclose alcohol or controlled substance violations to parents. These include violations of state and federal laws as well as school policies and rules governing the use or possession of alcohol or controlled substances.

Student sitting on steps.

Federal law recognizes a parent's right to be notified if their son or daughter is involved in risky or illegal behavior such as underage drinking, public drunkenness, drugs or criminal activity. The law permits, but does not require, schools to notify parents any time a student under 21 violates drug or alcohol laws.

Check with the dean of students or the student affairs office at your son's or daughter's college or university to discover the policy concerning parental notification. Ask what circumstances routinely trigger notification. It may be possible for you to arrange to be notified in the event of an incident involving alcohol.

You Have a Role

This is an exciting time for your son or daughter. You have a large role in preparing them to make responsible choices. Often, students make choices without thinking how those choices will affect them later. By sharing this information before hand, you help them make conscientious decisions. While you may not be able to actively monitor your student away from home, you can be available to talk and listen. You are shaping your son's or daughter's character, and you may be saving your child's life.

Funding for the development of this guide is made possible through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The Education Section of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) developed this resource. At Virginia ABC, we are committed to being a driving force in alcohol prevention and responsible decision-making. We continually offer training and resources to the campus community of Virginia. If you would like more information on our efforts, contact us at (804) 977-7440 or e-mail

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