A college professor’s advice on how to avoid ‘hookup culture’ on campus
Stephanie Amada, author of ‘Hooking Up: A Sexy Encounter with Choice: Leave the Walk of Shame Behind,’ shares five important tips all parents should know before sending their child off to college.
It’s almost November, so if you’ve got a high-school senior, you’re probably in the thick of college applications, visits, and complicated strategies about early decisions, financial aid, “reaches” and “safety” schools. And there are so many things to consider — sure, the school’s tuition, academic programs, and various ranking are important, but what about the university’s social life? If you’re a parent who’s tried to instill certain values around dating, you might be apprehensive about campus “hookup culture” and how your newly fledged freshman might handle it.
Fortunately, you have some time — time to both carefully consider what kind of school would be best for your child and to help him or her prepare for the kind of pressures they likely haven’t faced before. Many college students don’t want to participate in a social scene that emphasizes casual sex, but they don’t know how to build a happy and fulfilling social life outside of that social scene — and that’s exactly where loving parents can offer advice.
So we asked Michigan State University professor Stephanie Amada, author of Hooking Up: A Sexy Encounter with Choice: Leave the Walk of Shame Behind, on how to discuss hookup culture with your high school senior. Here are five tips for helping your kid navigate the campus social scene with honor and integrity.
1. Guide your child toward select schools
The college admissions process has gotten incredibly competitive these days — not just for students but for schools. Dozens of colleges may be vying for your teen’s attention, so do your part to help them choose a college that has diverse social options.
“Parents have the opportunity to guide their child’s decision about where to go to college,” says Amada. “And that’s a good starting point that definitely makes a difference. Even small Christian schools and Catholic schools are influenced by hookup culture, but there are other schools that are known as ‘party’ schools.”
Do your research. Ask other parents, trawl college admissions forums, talk to counselors, and get an overall sense of the atmosphere on campus. Is there a “party or perish” vibe? Are there viable alternatives for kids who want to socialize in quieter, more meaningful ways?
“Social life is a huge part of college; even as a professor, I admit that academics is just part of it,” says Amada. “I don’t say this in any way to discourage your child from going to a state school or a school that’s a known party school, but I do say this for parents who are concerned.”
2. Encourage involvement in non-party-animal activities
Joining a college club (or two or three) can be a fun outlet for your kid to make friends and develop hobbies that have nothing to do with hooking up.
“Even at the bigger schools and party schools, there are often small groups the students can get involved in and find like-minded people, so they can be around people who think like they think [when it comes to hookup culture],” says Amada.
She recommends going to the student organization fair that many campuses host at the beginning of the school year, when students can learn about the full scope of clubs available to them. Often campuses have so much variety that there’s truly something for everybody, whether that means practicing a foreign language, watching movies, or playing Quidditch!
“Sports often connect to party culture, but there are all kinds of activities that don’t necessarily have to be about partying and going out and hooking up with people,” says Amada.
3. Redefine dating
Peer pressure is huge, no matter where your kid goes to college. Be compassionate about the pressure your kid will face (if they’re not already grappling with it in high school) and remind them that really getting to know someone’s heart and spirit is worth their time.
“The world has changed,” says Amada. “The pressures to hook up are stronger. Keep in mind that there are similar pressures on girls these days to hook up. It’s not just boys whose masculinity is called into question if they’re not active.”
Emphasize that hooking up won’t make your kid more “grown-up” and that there are other students who genuinely want boyfriends and girlfriends (and maybe one day husbands and wives) — not just a quick party fix.
“I think that one of the big problems with hookup culture is that it leads young adults to think that casual sexual activity is their only option for getting to know the opposite sex or having any kind of romantic relationship,” says Amada. “I encourage teens and college students to think about what they want for themselves apart from the outside pressures and influences (which is hard to do at any age but especially as a teen!).”
Your kid will probably have to hear over and over that it takes courage to embrace their beliefs and stand up to peer pressure before the message is clear. Make it known that you’re always there to listen.
“Encourage your teen to keep true to their own values and long-term goals and desires and offer them loving support to help them feel confident enough to make decisions that might go against the majority of what their peers are doing,” says Amada. “Help them see that there are other options, and that a ‘date’ can be as simple as hanging out together at a football game.”
4. Be honest about booze
One mention you can’t miss in these conversations about sex and dating? Alcohol. It should be more than a casual aside, too.
“In terms of hookup culture, one of the biggest influences is alcohol,” says Amada. “When your child is getting ready to go away to college, talk about the influences of alcohol and the pressures to engage in sex. The pressure is there for both young men and women in slightly different ways, when it comes to both sex and drinking.”
If we’re all honest, we know that college students will probably drink before the legal age no matter what, but that doesn’t mean they have to get drunk and put themselves in compromising or outright dangerous situations (though if they do and they are assaulted, they’re still not to blame for someone else’s predation.) Make sure your teen is aware of the impaired judgement that comes with being what Amada calls “blindingly drunk” and the implications of making regretful decisions.
5. Talk explicitly about your values while encouraging dialogue
As a parent, you’ve probably worked hard to instill your values in your child, but as your kid approaches adulthood, they might follow their own moral compass. Even if you disagree with your child’s life choices, you can still show your love and support by establishing a judgment-free zone.
“You can do this by acknowledging, ‘These are my values, these values are very important to me, but you’re very important to me, too. You can talk to me. I’m here for you. Is there anything going on that you want to talk about?’” says Amada.
But don’t be surprised if you don’t earn your child’s trust right away.
“The first time you say this, your child may not be old enough to believe you,” she explains. “It may take a few times for your child to trust you.”
The point is to make your kid feel safe to talk to you no matter what, especially if they are scared, confused, or hurt. (An open dialogue also means they’re more likely to ask you for help if they’re assaulted, or if they’re too drunk to drive home, or are worried about a friend when they get to college.)
“The problem with hookup culture is that it normalizes the idea of hooking up, that this is what’s expected,” says Amada. “That’s why parents need to have a conversation with their children to help teens understand that not everybody’s doing it. It may not look like it, but if you’re not hooking up, you’re not the only one.”
Written By Christine Stoddard
Associate Editor Christine Stoddard’s work has appeared in Marie Claire, Bustle, Good Housekeeping, The Huffington Post, the Catholic News Service, and beyond. She is also the founding editor of the socially-minded art and literary magazine, Quail Bell.