College years are, by definition, a time to explore, discover, and develop new and lasting friendships. Most importantly, they’ll also gain knowledge and skills that will help them navigate through an increasingly complex world.As scientists, we know that ages 18 to 25 are the peak developmental period for the onset of alcohol and other drug problems as well as mental health disorders. Research tells us that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until the late 20’s and that the “CEO” part of the brain (the regions responsible for planning and regulation of behavior) develops a lot slower than the emotional centers of the brain. The result is that young adults in this age group tend to make decisions based on their emotions more than sound logical reasoning. That’s where you—the parent—come in. You can enhance your child’s rational decision making, and this website can help you do that.
                   You might be concerned that paying too much attention will hamper your child’s ability to make their own decisions. Know that it is possible (and important) for you to provide guidance and for them to develop autonomy at the same time. You are still important in their lives, and your opinions and advice matter—even when they do not seem to acknowledge or appreciate it!
                   Developmentally-appropriate communication requires a two-way street, where your child can feel safe expressing their feelings and thoughts, and you can provide honest feedback in a caring way. It’s critical to keep the door open to communication—to remind them that they can tell you what’s on their mind, what decisions they’ve made (big and small) and what’s going on with their friends and their classes. The goal at this age is to help them self-advocate, and assist them in finding resources to solve problems rather than solving the problem for them.

                   In developing this website, we conducted focus groups with parents of college students. They told us that they didn’t need “more information”. The number one thing they wanted to know was how to have meaningful communication with their college-attending child: how to start an important conversation, and what to say to increase the likelihood that their child would listen and make a smart decision.

                   Parents told us they were scared about all the things that can go wrong related to alcohol including overdoses, sexual assault, and poor grades. They feel like they are in the dark about what is happening in the lives of their children and what is happening on campus. Your child is the best resource you have for information about school happenings, new trends on campus related to alcohol, and their involvement with alcohol.

                   This website is designed to equip you, parents, with some tools and resources that will help you engage in effective communication with your college-attending child.
You’ll find some statistics about alcohol and related problems. However, the main focus is how to talk with your child. We’ve organized it by common situations that increase the risk for high-risk drinking, like the 21st birthday, spring break, and housing and roommates. Each page has a section on why the topic is important and a little bit of the research related to that topic, followed by two sections called Say this and “Not this”.  
                   At the Maryland Collaborative, we believe that scientific evidence should guide decision-making rather than anecdote or opinion.
Accordingly, the information that you will find in this website is informed by science. Some of the evidence might surprise you. For instance, scientific studies during the last decade have confirmed that exposure to alcohol during high school increases the chances of heavy drinking during college. This goes against the “forbidden fruit theory” or the popular opinion that parents should supervise drinking to avoid problems later. Hosting a party where teens can “learn to drink” under the watchful eye of a well-intentioned parent might seem like a good idea, but on the contrary, the science is clear that when they get to college, such teens are at high risk for heavy drinking and alcohol-related problems.

                   What you said or did during your child’s high school years matters, but your communication continues to matter now and going forward.
It’s never too late to learn new strategies, or try a new approach based on what you learn here. We encourage you to give us  feedback about what you learn here and what you would like to see.

                   In addition to being scientists, we are also parents.
Like you, we strive to guide our kids to make good decisions and help them avoid alcohol problems. That is why we are so passionate about translating scientific studies into practical information that parents can use—like when they need to make a tough decision or start a difficult conversation.

                  Thank you for all you do as a parent! We congratulate you on how far you’ve brought your young person already. We hope this website is useful to you, and we look forward to hearing from you.


David Jernigan, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society and the Director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he teaches courses on media advocacy and alcohol policy. He leads a collaborative research project with Boston University School of Public Health looking at youth alcohol brand preference and brand-level exposure to alcohol marketing, is co-director of the Maryland Collaborative, and directed a recently-completed four-university collaboration examining the social and health effects of changes in alcohol pricing. He has worked as an adviser to the World Health Organization and the World Bank, was principal author of WHO’s first Global Status Report on Alcohol and Global Status Report on Alcohol and Youth, and co-authored Media Advocacy and Public Health:  Power for Prevention, and Alcohol in the Developing World:  A Public Health Perspective.

David Jernigan, Ph.D.
Director, Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Department of Health, Behavior and Society
624 N. Broadway, Room 292
Baltimore, MD 21205
Amelia Arria, Ph.D.
Director, Center on Young Adult Health and Development (CYAHD)
University of Maryland School of Public Health
Department of Behavioral and Community Health
2387 School of Public Health Building
College Park, MD 20742

Amelia Arria, Ph.D. is co-leading the Maryland Collaborative with David Jernigan. She directs the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health. Her research interests include understanding risk and resiliency associated with adolescent and young adult drinking, illicit and nonmedical drug use, and suicidal behavior; evaluation of prevention, intervention, and treatment programs for substance use; investigating the prenatal effects of maternal drug exposure; and translating research findings for policy makers, parents, and families. One current research focus is the nexus between alcohol and other drug use and academic achievement. She has been the Principal Investigator of the College Life Study, a large prospective study of health-risk behaviors, including alcohol and other drug use, among a large sample of college students who have been studied annually for a decade. She has published more than 140 peer-reviewed scientific articles and has received numerous grants from federal and local agencies and private foundations. She received a BS in Human Development and Family Studies from Cornell University, a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and completed post-doctoral training in psychiatric and drug abuse epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Special thanks to...
Dr. Marc Fishman, MD; Jen Lavender-Thompson; and the numerous parents and college students who provided feedback on website content.

Funding for this website was provided by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene through the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems.

           Sending a child off to college is an experience filled with mixed emotions. On one hand, you’re proud of your child’s accomplishments and happy that the sacrifices and investments you’ve made in your child’s life have helped get them to this point. On the other hand, you’re anxious about what lies ahead and all the challenges they will face on their own. You’re probably wondering whether or not you’ve filled their “tool-box” with the proper skills to make smart decisions.  
Dear Parents,