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Current Year Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

CAMH’s back to school basics

Toronto, August 29, 2013 - Going away to college or university marks a milestone in the lives of young adults and their parents. For the child it’s an exciting time to develop new relationships, take on additional responsibility, and develop their own identity. For parents it can be a time when they begin to ask themselves, ‘what role do I play?’ Hearing stories of drinking, bullying and property damage at school can worry parents about how to keep their kids safe. Dr. David Wolfe, Director of CAMH’s Centre for Prevention Science has developed a tip sheet to help parents better communicate and build healthy relationships with their children as they transition.

University students

Ten tips for parents

  1. Be a parent (not a friend). While growing up children learned to depend on you for mature advice and guidance. Continue this role, and step back a bit from needing to know everything in their life.
  2. Don’t intrude. Let them make new friends, while knowing you’re still a major part of their life. Try to resist the temptation to contact them too often, through emails, text messages, Facebook and phone calls. Let them take the lead.
  3. Don’t pressure. Parents are sometimes too eager to see their kids find their niche, settle their plans, and reach their goals. This can come across to them as pressure or demands. Finding their niche takes time, and it’s their time and their life.
  4. Avoid “helicopter parenting”. Some say today’s parents are more hovering and protective than previous generations, which can make the process of transition difficult for some who are used to daily contact with parents. While it is important that you provide ongoing support and remain involved and interested in your child’s life, you must be willing to back-off and let them grow.
  5. Encourage new ideas. College and university is a time to explore new options and be exposed to new possibilities, so encourage them to investigate new courses and interests, even if it could mean a change in focus or delay in completing their degree. In the long run this is time well spent, for they will have chosen a career that is best for them.
  6. Be supportive. It is important for students to feel supported, but still in charge. Students who learn to manage the tension and worry associated with academic and social changes end up more successful and well-adjusted. Your role involves listening and guiding, not directing, cajoling, or pressuring.
  7. Encourage friendships and connection. Students who develop meaningful relationships with peers have fewer emotional and physical symptoms of stress. Encourage them to try new interests, develop new friendships, and go to new places – even if they’re a bit uncomfortable. Encouraging connection is especially important if your child lives at home.
  8. Be a touchstone of maturity and good advice. In an effort to make friends and fit in (or to cope with stress and anxiety), some students engage in excessive drinking, drug use, promiscuous sexual activity, and other health-compromising activities. Rather than telling your child what they can or cannot do, let them know what you expect of them, how proud you are of their efforts, and that you are available if they need advice
  9. Assist with time and money management. Many students are ill-prepared at managing their time or their finances, which contributes to their stress. Many students also have credit cards and amass sizable debt, yet they may not have a good understanding of how to manage it. Resist the temptation to reduce stress by giving money – remind them of their choices and help them plan a budget.
  10. Recommend academic and student counseling resources. If your child seems to be struggling, the first line of defence may be to have them speak to a counselor. Academic or mental health counselors can help students find the right courses, learn better study habits, and can also assist with all other aspects of health and well-being, including therapies to improve coping skills and strengthen relationships and connections.

Dr. Wolfe has been pioneering new approaches to preventing many societal youth problems such as bullying, relationship violence, and substance abuse, and strongly advocates that forming healthy relationships with children and adolescents should be a public health priority.  He has developed a multi-grade curriculum called The Fourth "R" on forming healthy relationships, which is currently being used throughout Canada and the U.S.

Other resources for parents:

To schedule an interview with Dr. Wolfe, please contact Michael Torres, CAMH Media Relations, 416-595-6015; or by email at

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world's leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental health. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues.CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre.​​​


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