Five Things to Say to Your Daughter Before She Leaves for College

Parents face an emotional-roller coaster ride as the college send-off approaches. Thinking about what can go wrong leaves us scratching our heads at what we can do to better prepare kids to be independent as they take risks in the world.  And while there are practical things all young adults need to know -- cooking, cleaning, how to get along with a roommate -- having a daughter brings a unique set of fears given the social conditions girls face.

Read on for 5 things no girl should leave home without hearing as she navigates the college transition.

1)    “Walking home alone from a party is not a good idea.  Don’t do it.”

Walking home late by yourself from a class, study session or party can seem pretty safe, especially when a campus has public safety officers or campus shuttles.  But walking home alone, though convenient, is never a good idea. Hard to believe, but roughly 2/3 of sexual assault is committed by someone known to the victim, and half happen within a mile of the victim’s home. Instead, use the buddy system.   Have her tell at least one person where she’s going and who she’s going to meet. If she’s dating online, on or off campus, make sure she lets someone close to her know where she’s going, with whom, and what time they can expect her back. Make sure your daughter fully understands what consent means.  According to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, consent is when “someone agrees, gives permission, or says "yes" to sexual activity with other persons. Consent is always freely given and all people in a sexual situation must feel that they are able to say "yes" or "no" or stop the sexual activity at any point.”  

2)    “If you are at a party, never, ever leave your drink unattended.”  You may want to say: “Don’t drink.  Period.  Wait until your ‘30s.”  Chances are that’s not going to happen.  But the reality is: use of date rape drugs is going up. Alcohol is involved in about 90 percent of sexual assault cases on college campuses. Alcohol and drugs combined can incapacitate even further.  It's 100 percent true that if you are intoxicated — with alcohol, drugs, or both — you are unable to consent to sex, but unfortunately that will strike a perpetrator as an opportunity rather than a deterrent.

3) “Travel and study abroad -- even solo -- is one of the best things in life.”  Even though you may really want to say: “Don’t travel by yourself to fill-in-the-blank city or country. Young women traveling alone are prime targets.” Concerns about safety are valid, but projecting fear is not the answer.   Teaching precautions is. Registering with the state department, making sure folks back home have your itinerary and regular check-ins are a few of them.  Here are some more. The self-sufficiency and crack-you-open experience that travel offers is not to be missed.

4)  “You may feel like you don’t belong in your class or internship. Listen to -- but don’t give into -- that feeling.” Encourage her to learn about The Imposter Syndrome, a condition that reflects how, once internalized, sexism and racism diminish self-confidence and performance. Research suggests that women are more often affected by Imposter Syndrome.  Women tend to question their abilities and feel inferior because being female or of color means you and your work stand a greater chance of being taken less seriously. The best way to confront it: show up and keep on taking action as she moves through feeling like a fraud.

5) “You are not alone.”  At times a girl may feel like “it’s only me” who feels the pressure of being female, or a girl of color in a culture and society that can make them feel less than worthy.  Chances are very good there is a group on campus where young women, together, are exploring the impact of and antidotes to the powerlessness that can develop.  Join the conversation.  Sooner than later.

My bio: I’m an advocate and mother in Seattle, WA focusing on girl’s issues, particularly those at the intersections of girl culture, identity, choice and power.  In addition, I work on girl’s economic opportunity, violence prevention and court reform at The Justice for Girls Coalition of Washington State.

My blog focuses on how to create a culture -- at home and in the community -- where girls are comfortable using power, and where the larger culture supports them to do so.

Follow my Power Trips blog at, find me on Facebook at @fivegirlpowers.