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Reading Between the Lines of Party School Rankings

To high school students, college is a legendary place where anything goes: rules are only there to be broken, nights are for partying, and classes exist as a way to balance out the shenanigans.

Watch any college-themed movie and it’s easy to see where this image comes from. However, the party-all-night mentality is rooted in a kernel of truth, and as a society we even go so far as to rank schools based on their reputation for parties.

What do these “Party School Rankings” really mean? If you’re a parent of a high school senior, you’ll definitely want to know where your teen’s university ranks in this list, and then sit down for a conversation about what such a ranking really means. Here, we’ll help you get right to some of the finer points:

Alcohol Use

Where there’s a college party, there’s bound to be alcohol. Even though only a fraction of the student population is old enough to legally drink, fraternity or sorority parties are virtually synonymous with alcohol. Furthermore, many college students binge drink, whether they realize that’s what they are doing or not. Binge drinking involves additional risks, like blacking out or suffering from alcohol poisoning.

There may occasionally be a party that is advertised as alcohol-free and sponsored by a sober- or clean-living group on campus, but this is the exception rather than the norm.

Drug Use

Of all substances that one might abuse, alcohol is the easiest to obtain. But that doesn’t mean that drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, prescription painkillers or marijuana won’t be passed around at a party too. Alcohol consumption can impair one’s ability to think clearly, meaning that your normally smart teen might try a drug under a combination of peer pressure and the influence of alcohol.

Addiction or Substance Use Disorders

With alcohol or drug use comes the risk of addiction or a substance use disorder. Some drugs are powerfully addictive after a single hit. You have probably warned your teen to never try a cigarette for that very reason. But what about other drugs?

Be sure to clearly tell your teen that no level of drug or alcohol use is harmless. If they can control their actions and not consume one of these substances, it is impossible to become addicted. But once they try a drug or drink alcohol, the substance takes over; they may drink or use more than they ever intended in a single night, and it all goes back to that first sip or hit.

To be truly safe from addiction, you can’t start using. Ever. There is no “just a little bit” in terms of drug or alcohol use.

Risky Sexual Behavior

The ability to make decisions is impaired when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This means your teen might engage in risky sexual behavior, like having casual sex with people he or she doesn’t really know or failing to use protection. Your teen might wind up with an unwanted reputation at best or an unwanted pregnancy at worst. With an increase in casual sex comes an increase in the risk of contracting an STD as well.

Increased Risk of Sexual Assault

At parties where cups are often set down and forgotten about, it is all too easy for someone to slip an illicit drug into a drink and wait. But sexual assault isn’t always planned in advance.

Alcohol may make your teen more vulnerable to sexual predators due to the way it impairs the ability to think clearly. A drunk person is also less likely to be able to run away or to physically fight off an attacker since mobility is also impaired. And what’s worse, a blackout from heavy drinking might mean that your teen has no recollection of who the perpetrators were.

Women are more likely to be the victims of a sexual assault, but it could happen to your son too. Be aware that no one is immune to sexual assault, but that about 50% of sexual assaults “involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim or both.”

Academic Failure

A school known for its party culture probably has startling statistics related to sexual assault and alcohol or drug use and abuse. All things considered, academic failure doesn’t seem like such a bad outcome. However, it’s not always easy to bounce back from academic failure, and the repercussions can be far-reaching.

For example, student loans or financial aid are often contingent on maintaining a certain grade-point average. Your student may lose funding by failing a semester. It’s also possible for a student to be rejected by the school for poor academic performance, and such a stain on their record can make it difficult for them to be accepted at another university for a fresh start.

The bottom line is that these party rankings and top party schools hint at some startling statistics. Your son or daughter might think it’s cool that his or her school is considered one of the “best party schools,” but there is a darker side to such an accolade. How many students are struggling with drug or alcohol use? How many have been sexually assaulted? How many have lost financial aid or have been forced to drop out altogether?

Sit down with your teen and make sure he or she understands how to be safe at a college party. It is a conversation you truly cannot have too often.

Posted on October 27th, 2016

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