Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q: My daughter leaves for college soon and I’m a nervous wreck. I know protecting her is an illusion even when she’s at home. It just feels safer when she’s sleeping under my roof. She’s my only and it’s been just the two of us for the last 10 years. Any advice for how to prepare her to avoid risk? I worry most about things like date rape and her being taken advantage of by people new to her.

Frightened mom

Mary Jo’s response: Letting go is tough. Change is challenging. Loving someone deeply makes us vulnerable, but vulnerability doesn’t mean we hold our children back from experiencing life.

I applaud your courage in seeking support and dealing with your fear. Many believe fear isn’t healthy, but I think it’s a gift, especially to parents. Fear keeps us sharp and helps motivate us to teach. Don’t touch the hot stove, this is how we safely cross a street, choose friendships with care, let’s talk about relationships – raising children makes us prepare them for life. When your daughter leaves for college you will nurture her next step in her life’s adventure. You’ll miss her in your home, her empty bedroom will sadden you, but you will give her the skills to thrive. You’ve already done so, day by day, since before she took her first steps as a toddler.

College, like all new things, is an adjustment. Last week my pastor said, “People want things to change but don’t want anything to be different.” Take this change one day at a time. You’ll connect with your daughter face to face with technology, you’ll text her and send her care packages and visit. You’ll both grow.

You ask about avoiding risk. Her education in risk avoidance is ongoing; the only different variable is her choices without your input. She’s ready and so are you. Here are some areas I suggest stressing before she leaves:

  • Prepare her for reality: Unfortunately, freshmen may be targeted by older students. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports, in eight out of 10 rape cases, the victim knew the perpetrator. It’s not negative to share those statistics and caution your daughter to be aware of how to interact. Be real about sex. She should know if she wants to be sexually involved with someone and be able to tell if someone wants to be sexually involved with her. Tell her to be cautious.
  • Talk about consent: Decisions about consent need a clear mind. Discuss drug and alcohol use without shaming or judging or assuming behavior. Simply talk about what consent means, how to convey consent, and what to do if a new relationship becomes threatening. A conversation at a party shouldn’t lead to more unless both people give consent. Remind her she’ll meet all types of people. Encourage her to be aware of the culture of masculinity around sexuality. Young people can be part of changing the social norm that manhood is about sexual conquest.
  • Stay connected: Your daughter is part of an educated, aware generation. Help her use online connection and social media wisely. Show her campus resources. Talk about respect online and handling drama. Articulate the obvious – she is your child, your love for her is unconditional, she can talk with you about anything without fear of judgment.

Good luck with a positive life change for you both.


I leave for college next week. I’m the last of five kids to leave home. My older brother went to college two years ago and my parents were so embarrassing! I was with them and I cringed. My dad talked to all the new students, walking up and down the dorm. My mom took pictures. They invited about five people to lunch. No one went with them because no one knew them! I love my parents, but they were so weird. Is there any way I can tell them I love them, but please don’t embarrass me? I wish they could just drop me off and then leave.


Mary Jo’s response: Love can manifest itself in many ways. I’m sure you were embarrassed two years ago; has time given you empathy for your parents’ experience?

Involved parents give more time to raising their children than any child can imagine. A common cliché says we only understand our parents’ sacrifices when we become parents ourselves. Perhaps. I do know it’s easiest to see life through our own lens, our own perspective. Moving-in day at college is an adventure for you and a bittersweet rite of passage for your parents. They love you; they may feel loss and anxiety and pride and joy all at once.

Talk with your parents before you leave for school. Be gentle. Be honest. Seek compromise. For 18 years you slept under their roof. They want pictures to remember this day; someday you’ll be glad they helped create memories for you, as well. Try to honor your parents’ needs. It’s one day, and they won’t be the only parents going to lunch, buying books and snapping selfies in front of Old Main or the college statue. Try for patience.

It’s OK to share your feelings, of course, but please do so with love and respect.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at

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