October 22, 2013
Advice For College Freshmen…And All Of Us
We are well into October of the fall semester, which means that many new freshmen this year are adapting to college life while some still struggle and others walk the fence. Yahoo Health recently posted an article about the top five risks that college freshmen will face in their first year: diet and exercise, alcohol-related injuries, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), prescription drug abuse, and stress. Naturally, these risks affect other groups, ages, and people, but for the college freshmen, these sometimes surprise them.
In an effort to better warn parents and better prepare college students, I wanted to look at these closer. As a college professor, I see many of these in my students and want to help them as well as the many college freshmen across the country.
Diet and Exercise
Many college freshmen (and college students as a whole) simply do not make enough time to exercise, be that running, lifting weights, doing yoga, playing sports, or whatever. Additionally, they do not eat healthily. For most, college is the first time they have to fend for themselves, the first time they have to take responsibility for preparing food or choosing what to eat, which often leads to poor food choices. Plus, many college students have very limited funds so all they can afford is ramen or cheap microwave or frozen dinners. Or at least they do not think they can afford healthier foods.
Both of these (the lack of exercise and poor eating habits) lead to poor health and ultimately contribute to the traditional “Freshman 15.” Really, it ends up being more than just 15 pounds that freshmen gain. That is enough to concern us, but what is also important is without a healthy diet and exercise, often our stress levels skyrocket. These two are so much more important than just how we look. They are crucial for our physical, mental, and emotional health.
As the Yahoo article notes, “Half of all accidental college deaths have been linked to drug or alcohol abuse, whether from falling off a balcony at a party or driving drunk.” Many of these are caused by binge drinking. Though many college freshmen indulge in binge drinking, the bigger concern is the actions they take after drinking so much. Yes, binge drinking is bad. It harms the body, is bad for our health, and impairs our decision making. But, the way we react while drunk should concern us just as much.
Simply educating our youth about the dangers of binge drinking and explaining how to drink responsibly can have an incredible impact on minimizing these alcohol-related injuries and death. These young adults are going to drink; maybe not all of them, but many will engage in this activity. We must educate them on good decisions about alcohol not simply command them not to drink.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
“The US Centers for Disease Control reports that half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted disease cases each year occur in people ages 15 to 24. Many of the more common STDs are treatable, but some can have life-long effects.” That should be enough to make us all want to provide better education to these college-aged young adults.
Simply saying “don’t do it” is not enough. Teenagers have engaged in sexual activity for millennia. We must provide them with better tools to protect themselves as well as teach them how to be sexually responsible. This is particularly important because some STDs can affect fertility later in life even if the disease is cured. Not to mention the mental anguish that one diagnosed with an STD suffers from, whether curable or a life-long ailment.
Prescription Drug Abuse
Alcohol-related injuries have long been a concern on college and university campuses, but prescription drug abuse is becoming an issue more and more. From those that allegedly enhance performance like Adderall and Ritalin to pain relievers like Oxycontin, which is often used recreationally, college students engage in prescription drug use and abuse. This is becoming one of America’s biggest drug problems, and there is not time better than the present to address it and help people understand the effects such drugs have on our bodies and emotional and mental states.
College is stressful. Between managing classes, homework, jobs, social time, personal time, and family time, college students feel the pressure of stress. Additionally, many college freshmen have never had to be responsible for all aspects of their lives, which also contributes to stress levels. This stress often leads to bad choices concerning diet, exercise, alcohol, sex, and drugs. All of the previous four concerns for college freshmen contribute more stress.
It is vital that college students learn stress management skills. They must eat right, exercise, and avoid excessive alcohol and drug use. They must treat their bodies right in all aspects. Exercise can be one of the best stress management tools. Plus, college freshmen must learn to manage their time wisely in order to get all that they have to do done before they play.
All of these are concerns for all of us, not just college freshmen. However, if we teach our youth about each one, perhaps the future will be brighter and easier for us all.
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