By Susan Donaldson James
Immunization record? Check. Meningitis and flu shots? Check. But did you have that talk about sex, drugs and alcohol?
Going to college is a big step into the adult world — but it’s also the first exposure to the germs that come with living in close quarters, as well as the social temptations that come with it.
Keeping healthy during the college years can be a challenge. Explore
Going to college? Take a shot. Of vaccine.
“The great thing about college is that it happens during adolescence,” said Dr. Lonna Gordon, a specialist at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City. “It’s a time for exploration and learning about new things…but that can pose some health risks and harm, if you are not careful.”
'What if I am sick, who will take care of me?'
Ingrid Rizo, a single mom from Roxborough, Colorado, says she thinks she has “things covered” as she prepares to send her daughter Lina off to the University of Missouri to study journalism in the fall.
This week they have been “scurrying around” making sure all her immunizations are current.
Rizo has also had conversations with Lina about substance abuse, pregnancy risk and STDs. “Before she leaves, I’ll probably buy a box of condoms and make sure to replace them when she is back for Christmas,” she said. “But I don’t want to know if they’ve been used!”
Rizo still worries.
“I'm torn between my pride in her and my desperate sadness about moving her to 10 hours away,” Rizo, 48, told NBC News.
“I was always a little bit uncomfortable about her going so far away,” she said. “One day she said to me, ‘what if I am sick, who will take care of me?’”
One of her biggest concerns is that the college health center doesn’t take the family’s health insurance and Lina is a triathlon athlete. “Cycling, these kids are wheel-to-wheel and there are a lot of accidents.”
Lina is also native American, and Rizo, an adoptive mom, worries about the “micro-aggressions” that come with being a minority student in a new environment.
“I know I am thinking about all the worst scenarios,” she said. “Legitimately, I think her health will be fine. …And Lina is definitely not as nervous as I am.”
“But when she is on her own, my eyes and disapproval will not be there,” she said. “Who knows if it will work?”
'Getting good sleep can help'
Beyond social temptations, a college career can be derailed by poor nutrition or lack of sleep, say experts.
Kate Carter, a 34-year-old mother from New Hampshire said her step-daughter dropped out of college after three emergency room visits for chest colds and untreated urinary tract infections.
“She was used to me cooking daily and was suddenly on her own,” said Carter. “I doubt she was unique in that she ignores symptoms until she's very sick.”