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Here's how to survive your kid's freshmen year without all the handholding Add to ...

WHAT IF MY SON ADOPTS A STRICT DIET OF PIZZA AND BEER?

DON'T demand a calorie-by-calorie report of what they ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

DO stealthily eye them when they return home for Thanksgiving to check out whether they're starting to bulge out of their sweater or pick at their food.

"You'd look at: What are the students eating? Are they observing significant weight changes? That kind of thing. Anything else is going to fall into what you call nagging," says Susan Evers, professor of family relations and applied nutrition at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

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If you're really worried fruits and veggies are going by the wayside, leave a basket of the stuff next time you visit, says Rena Mendelson, a nutrition professor at Toronto's Ryerson University. "Or you could say to your kid, 'If you're going to join the gym, I'll pay for [membership]' " Gift certificates for healthy restaurants in the area would also give them a reason to eat something nutritious, she says.

Otherwise, rest easy that university cafeterias have lots of options. And even if your son has a penchant for pizza, the chance he'll get scurvy is slim.

"If you've set a basis as they grow in sound nutrition, they're going to follow that by themselves," says Mary Spohn, Colorado-based author of What to Expect When Your Child Leaves for College: A Complete Guide for Parents Only. "Yeah, there might be periods when they do nothing but eat pizza, but that's pretty normal and they're not going to die from it."


WHAT IF MY KID BLOWS ALL HIS SPENDING MONEY IN A MONTH?

DON'T panic and set up a joint bank account so you can monitor how often Johnny drops $40 for a two-four of beer or $300 on an iPhone.

DO let Johnny blow the budget - once.

If students overspend the first time, help them out of the jam, Florida-based university transition expert Barbara Rhode says. But be clear they're on their own after that. "You want to help them, but if you're really being honest with yourself, help doesn't always mean saying yes. It's giving the problem back to them."

Toronto parent Ralph Marranca, whose daughter Lauren is entering her third year at Brock University in Ontario, says he does a finance check every month when the bank statement comes in.

"I say to her, 'I'm not going to sort of drop in and hover over you, but we are going to check in and ask how are your payments? How are things going?' "

It's tempting to try to track their spending with a joint bank account, says Réjean Desprix, a senior manager of investment sales at Bank of Montreal. But it's just as easy for kids to fool you. "That would cause a lot of children to just take out cash instead of actually tracking their purchases."

But a joint account may not be so bad for students with spotty spending records, Ms. Spohn says. Her son Stu spent $1,800 (U.S.) in his first semester. "Around November, I started to see little drips and drabs of money coming from the account that was supposed to be savings." So she tightened the purse strings. "Don't give him everything," she advises. "Give him enough even if it's his own money."


WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE WILD CAMPUS SEX ROMPS?

DON'T assume your 18-year-old daughter will be coerced into a threesome during frosh week.

DO slip a few sex books into a care package or e-mail her some links to sexual health websites so she can get the tips without risking pressuring her to tell all about her sexcapades.

"The most important piece of advice to stress is, 'I trust you to make smart decisions; here are some tools to help you do that,' " says Saleema Noon, a Vancouver-based sex educator who works with young people.

"[Parents are]worrying that casual sex is running rampantly through residence halls, but I don't think that's necessarily true, especially today," she says. "Recent research here in Canada has said teens are having less sex and are using condoms consistently, especially girls."

But parents should nonetheless wise up to the possibility their kids will be lured into the sack, most likely at the end of a boozy party.

They can ask their son or daughter what kind of boundaries they've set in advance, says Pega Ren, a sex therapist also based in Vancouver.

And renewing the high-school sex talk never hurts. Janice Rundles, a mother of three in Durham, N.H., says she had an updated sex chat this summer before sending 18-year-old Maria to her first year of university in Manhattan.

"It was just the typical things you say - sex should mean something, it shouldn't just be a casual thing," Ms. Rundles says. "She said she was going to try to not go wild. I don't know if she was being truthful or not."


WHAT IF MY SON SLACKS OFF AND SLEEPS IN?

DON'T be his personal alarm clock and call him every morning to tell him class starts in 40 minutes - or phone his professors to check on his marks.

DO cut him some slack and recognize he probably won't be raking in A grades during the first semester.

Kids tend to slack off because they're overwhelmed by the great leap in academic demands, says Karen Kovach, director of learning resources at the University of Alberta.

"We try to say, 'Look, it is going to be your students' ability to adapt that's going to determine their success, not their high-school grades,' " she says.

But when students are really not taking advantage of the education they're offered, sometimes you need to apply some tough love, Ms. Rhode says. "If this is a pattern, you as a parent and as a coach get to say 'I'm not paying for this,' " she says.

Admitting she fears her daughter will be overwhelmed with the demands of university in Montreal, Sue Kohlhepp sent Lucy to school last week with a few tips. "My plan is threefold: Ask for help when you need it, write things down - because she doesn't like to do that - and to not let things go and get behind, because then you'll get in terrible trouble."

If things get really bad, cut a deal, Ms. Spohn says. After Stu's grade point average drastically dropped during his first semester, she negotiated with him to hand over his website user ID so she could periodically check out his marks. "He's on his last chance this semester," she sighs. "But the majority of students will do better if left alone."


WHAT IF MY SON GETS HAMMERED ALL THE TIME?

DON'T try to get all the liquor-soaked details from the floor residence adviser.

DO keep your ears perked for the hangover voice in future phone calls. If you hear it a lot, it could be a sign he's changed majors from business to booze.

While binge drinking on campus definitely happens, studies show that 66 per cent of Canadian postsecondary students only go out once or twice a month to party, and you'll hear that hangover voice on the phone a lot more often during orientation and after exams, says Frances Wdowczyk, executive director of Student Life Education Co., a group that talks to students and parents about drinking at university.

"There are ebbs and flows throughout the year. As the academic cycle picks up, students find their own rhythm," she says. "They usually pick an opportunity to go out and socialize and party that they can risk [being in rough shape]the next day."

And even if you wanted the inside scoop from their floor fellow, you're out of luck. In the eyes of the university, students are adults, and if they don't want to tell you about their drinking escapades they don't have to. Residence advisers are also legally bound to keep mum unless student safety is seriously threatened, says Eric Glanville, a student development co-ordinator in the office for new students at Douglas College in British Columbia.

 

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