Health Tips for Teens Going to College

·3-min read
Doctor disinfecting arm of patient in volunteer clinic
Doctor disinfecting arm of patient in volunteer clinic

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If your child is preparing to go away to college — especially those attending for the first time — now is the time to start getting everything in order when it comes to their health. PEOPLE spoke to Dr. Margaret Stager, an adolescent adolescent medicine physician and professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, about what should be on their wellness checklist.

Schedule a Physical

"Get their annual medical exam right before they leave," Stager tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, on newsstands nationwide Friday. "It's especially important for those with chronic diseases— asthma, Crohn's, lupus—to have their medications in order, and a plan in place if they get sick during the semester."

This plan, which Stager often coordinates with parents, may include a decision going to the student health center, calling their doctor at home, or making a trip to the local emergency room.

"The adolescent and the young adult likes to think, 'I'm going to be fine,'" she says. "But the stress of the move, the stress of the classes, the stress of the change in diet often can result in flare ups" of chronic diseases.

For more back to school tips, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

Also make sure your child is current with vaccinations, which may include tetanus, meningitis B, and the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine for cancer prevention.

Don't Neglect the Eyes and Teeth

"It's also the time to get those dental and eye checkups, particularly for those who wear contacts or glasses," says Stager. "Get that all figured out because it takes time to order the glasses and order the contacts. And then, you want enough [contacts] to get you through several months."

Happy young indian female gp doctor showing test result on clipboard to interested snake person african ethnicity male patient, discussing healthcare medical insurance or illness treatment at clinic.
Happy young indian female gp doctor showing test result on clipboard to interested snake person african ethnicity male patient, discussing healthcare medical insurance or illness treatment at clinic.

Getty

Make a Plan for Your Child's Mental Well-Being

"Anyone who has a known mental health condition prior to leaving for college, this is also the time to make the plan for: What's your care going to be? How are we going to make sure that you've got a good support system?" she says. "You're going to be exposed to more stress."

She adds that another reason to plan ahead is that you may not even learn that your child's mental health is suffering, at least from the school.

"Many colleges have privacy policies that don't allow parents to be notified if a student is having mental health difficulties," she says. "In some universities, they will have what's called a waiver where the student says, 'Yes, you can notify my parents or guardian about these areas."'

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

Have a Frank Discussion About Sexual Health

"Normalize these conversations," Stager says, especially with young women. "It's about looking ahead and empowering them regarding reproductive health, emergency contraception, consent and safe-sex practices."

"Not every parent is comfortable doing this," she adds, "but this is one of the regular things that the pediatrician or the adolescent medicine specialist will talk about with a young lady."

Stager talks to her female patients about emergency contraception -- what it means and how to access it. "I will also offer a prescription for that as well with several refills," she says, "because accidents happen."