Your child always followed your rules and the law during high school. They did their homework, got home at a reasonable hour and generally grew up just like you hoped. You felt thrilled. You assumed you raised a responsible child who would leave for college and become a responsible adult. As a parent, that felt like tremendous success.
What you need to know is that college attendance plays a big role in how children develop. It may reduce crime rates prior to arrival on campus, but then a dramatic shift means that young college students become more likely to commit crimes than those who did not go to college at all.
While every child is different, one study looked at thousands of college-bound students to draw these conclusions.
At first, the researchers discovered that those who knew they wanted to go to college committed fewer crimes than peers who had no such aspirations. They did not use substances like alcohol or illegal drugs as often, they did not commit as many property crimes and they generally stayed out of trouble.
Sound familiar? Your child did the same thing. That focus on studies, homework and the end goal — getting into college — may have helped. The structure of living at home and working hard toward a goal pushed your child to make the right choices.
In college, though, researchers found a sudden spike in criminal activity. Getting to campus appeared to trigger these changes. Students started drinking more, even while still under the legal age of 21. They started committing more property crimes, such as theft.
Part of the reason may be that the amount of unstructured time they had with their friends increased. College is not like high school, with classes for seven or eight hours a day. Students have more free time and get into more trouble than those who do not go to college at all.
Researchers believe that the issue is that college extends childhood, to a degree. Those who did not go to college may get married, work 40-hours per week — or more — and start families. They take on adult responsibilities, they have far less free time and they commit fewer crimes as a result.
In college, students often live off of financial aid and do not work. Most stay unmarried. Most do not have children. They do not have to pay off their tuition until they’re done. Many do not even have to pay bills, as they use savings or financial aid to cover costs until graduation.
Overall, they do not have to take on an adult lifestyle. That lack of responsibility creates a college lifestyle that caters to minor criminal activity.
Is your child facing charges? If you worry about their future, make sure you understand all of your legal defense options.