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Of college safety and parent solace

Two weeks ago, my wife and I had a new first in our lives. We loaded up my son in a U-Haul, made the 150-mile trek southbound on I-35 and pulled up to a college dormitory where we unloaded an enormous volume of "necessities." Included was a futon, shelving unit (both required assembly ... ugh), TV, refrigerator, microwave and, of course, a new Apple laptop.

After the six hours of "move in" we brought our son out to eat for what felt like "The Last Supper." The three of us made our way back to his dorm room and said our goodbyes. There were, predictably, tears and anxiety over separating from a child who has been under our roof and our thumb for 18 years.

We feel we did a good job raising a kind and caring young man who was intelligent and would make good decisions. Upon leaving, I looked at many other parents and young adults who were having the same experience. All looked tentative, excited, yet filled with wonder about what the future would bring. I was certain the other moms and dads wondered like us: Will my child have success, make friends and get along with room/dorm mates? Yet I knew the primary concern all of us parents shared: "Will my child be safe here?"

I knew the answer before giving more than a moment's thought. It was not because I had a sudden spell of omnipotence, but rather I was relying on my experience being a police officer for more years in my life than not. I had the advantage of going to oodles of police calls over the years involving college kids and could give a street corner doctoral dissertation on the subject.

Three days later our son, who is open to telling us the good, bad and ugly, shared some unique experiences over a text message. He witnessed a student being arrested by the police, had a dorm-mate carted away by ambulance after drinking too much and met a couple students who boasted about having Adderall and marijuana for sale. While this news is not what parents want to hear when paying thousands for an education, these are the realities of student life at colleges across our nation. College is an education both in and out of the classroom.

So how do we keep our young adults safe as they venture out for the first time? We talk to them about our fears and never quit coaching them on life. Let them know we prefer our kids abstain from drinking alcohol until 21 but understand that for many college kids, drinking with friends is a rite of passage. It likely will happen, so prepare them to make responsible decisions if or when they drink. Let them know if they drink and are scared, by all means, call mom and dad, we will help them be safe. Tell them how binge drinking leads to overdose, accidents, assault and addiction.

Have the tough conversation your daughter to let her know one in four female college students are sexually assaulted by someone they know and she is most at risk under the influence and off campus. Reinforce with your son the importance of respecting all women and the importance of having the courage to stand up when they see injustices of all kinds. Educate our kids to know the dangers associated with taking all non-prescribed substances. Many recreational substances today are laced with more dangerous substances like fentanyl or synthetic chemicals to heighten the effects or cause addiction with the hope of creating a long-term user.

I have a newfound respect for all of you parents out there with kids out of the house at college for the first time. Your worries are my worries. I understand how badly you want your child to be safe, happy and successful. Together, we need to keep coaching our children on making good decisions and understand when they fall short of our expectations. Yes, we can keep our children safe and make college a great experience but our kids need to be aware of the pitfalls.

I have to go now. I need to call my son.

Mike Tusken

Contact Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken at 730-5020.

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