Letting Go and Staying Connected: A theoretically guided, developmentally targeted, and empirically supported intervention for parents of students transitioning to college

Primary author: Laura Hill
Co-author(s): Brittany Cooper; Matt Bumpus; Kevin Haggerty; Richard Catalano; Martie Skinner

Primary college/unit: Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences
Campus: Pullman


Early adulthood is a critical developmental period when many youth transition from living at home with parents to the relative autonomy of college. This transition results in increased opportunity both for positive growth and identity development as well as increased risky substance use and sexual behaviors. This developmental transition also presents opportunities for prevention. Research shows that parents continue to influence young adult behavior even at a distance; however, few studies have tested parent-college student interventions. We created a parent-student handbook intervention that provides parents with tools designed to help them support their students as they transition to living away from home, by providing encouragement, communicating clear expectations, and supporting growth in students’ autonomy.

Data for the present study come from the efficacy trial of the self-directed handbook for parents of first-year college students. In the summer before college, parent-student dyads were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: control (N=313), parent handbook (N=278), or parent handbook plus booster texts (N=323). We collected data on substance use early in the students’ first fall semester at WSU.

Among students who reported substance use in high school, students in the handbook condition reported significantly lower increases in frequency of 30-day alcohol use, binge drinking, marijuana, and co-use once they came to college. Students who had reported no previous use were significantly less likely to report initiation of alcohol, marijuana, or co-use of both once they came to college. Results suggest that this low-cost intervention significantly reduces new students’ risk behaviors.