How Can I Parent My College-Bound Son?
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How Can I Parent My College-Bound Son?

Jan Faull, MEd, advises a worried mother on the legal issues her son could encounter when he goes away to college, and what she can do to help.

Q. My 18-year-old son recently went to a party where there was drinking and no adult supervision. The party got a little out of control and the police showed up. My son is being charged with interfering with an arrest (the police arrested one of his friends). I think he understands his actions were wrong, but I am concerned about how this behavior might progress when he goes to college in the fall. He has been a pretty normal teenager throughout high school, getting average grades and working part-time at our local supermarket. I know he's attended parties before, but until now he has usually acted responsibly. I want to help him understand that this kind of behavior could damage him for life. Can you offer any advice about how I should handle this situation?

A. Once a teen turns 18 and is off to college, your parenting roll shifts tremendously. The morals you've taught begin more than ever to play themselves out in the real world. Ask our son if he knows what he did was wrong. If he says "yes," that's good. You hope that he now knows that interfering with an arrest is wrong. At the time of the incident, he probably thought he was doing the right thing by protecting his friend. Moving out into the real world presents real-life consequences.

It's time to discuss other potentially unlawful situations that might arise when at college. Young adults often don't know that certain actions are unlawful acts -- instead they think of them as minor misbehavior or possibly an innocent prank. The real world presents new rules to play by, and many young adults don't know the rules.

If your son has an older cousin or family friend who currently attends or recently graduated from college, ask him or her to spend some time with your son and tell him of unlawful situations he might encounter.

Some include:

Minor in position of an alcoholic beverage: A person under the age of 21 can't carry an alcoholic beverage in public, even in a nondescript container.

Having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle: If your son is driving a car, not drinking alcohol himself, but his passengers are, he -- the driver -- is responsible for those open containers of alcohol in the car he's driving.

Contributing to the delinquency of a minor: This charge has many implications, the most obvious is that when your son turns 21, if he buys alcohol for a minor, he can be arrested for this unlawful act.

These are only a few laws your son needs to be aware of now that he's over 18 and about to head off to college.

Forewarning a young adult is good. It's important to know, however, that there's a difference between knowing what's right and doing it. It involves the difference between self-control and a conscience. The conscience is just the voice inside a person's head that tells him what he's doing is wrong. Self-control is what keeps the person from actually doing it.

The goal is that your son will do what's right and lawful even when no one is watching. You trust that he'll be able to step away from his peers and do what's right even if everyone else is doing what's wrong. Lastly you hope that he'll do what's right even if the only person he hurts by doing wrong is himself.

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