Last week's death of Scott Krueger has left many parents unsettled. From what we know, the Kruegers set their son off on a course that many envy. Scott did a superb job in high school, it's said, and there must have been grand expectations for what was to come.
It's so easy to keep babies on the path we've chosen for them. Bundle them into a carriage and away we go. It gets harder with toddlers, who live to break free. By adolescence, the umbilical cord stretches to the severing point. Then we are left wondering if what we've done has been good enough.
Besides feeling sorrow for the Krueger family, parents in this community now feel unsettled, wondering how something that started so right could go so wrong.
We, whose children are beyond college years, know that what happens, or doesn't, sometimes comes down to a measure of luck.
But the parents of children in college wonder if they can do anything to protect their child, even though he or she has left the nest.
"I think we all hear hoofbeats," said Marguerite D. Kermis, a Canisius College professor of psychology who specializes in adolescent development.
Christine Moll of the college's counseling education department says parents should reveal their fears, though not in a lecture format.
Krueger's death, for example, can be a starting point to talk about the dangers of alcohol.
"You could point out that they could be in the same situation, so you want them to think about what they'd do. You could broach it as happening to a friend, which sometimes makes them more willing to listen."
And you can let them know that you are still on call. "I've had my daughters call me from a party they didn't feel good about at 2 o'clock in the morning," said Lee Fassl, Canisius' dean of students and the father of four grown children. "I got in my car and picked them up."
Experts say parents should attend college orientation sessions to become acquainted with faculty, other students and the surroundings. And that they should call, at least once a week, "just to remind them of what home is all about" while listening for warning signs of missed classes or dropping grades.
Those with younger children need to think about what messages might be effective during the impressionable years.
Ms. Kermis' suggestion is to groom children to be decision makers. "Parents who are autocratic just impose rules," she said. "Those who are democratic may still make the decisions, but they allow their kids to have input. Even if it's not the choice the child would have made, they feel they've had a role.
"It's an irony, but if you don't provide structure, with guidance, people can't learn to make decisions. It's so simple, yet it's so hard to do."
There has been a lot of talk about how susceptible adolescents are to peer pressure. So it's probably a good idea for parents to lay out some scenarios and ask their children how they would react.
Children need to know, early on, that they are responsible for their actions and the consequences they produce.
"Talk to any teacher, as early as fourth or fifth grade, and they'll tell you how children are always offering excuses for what they've done, or not done," said Ms. Kermis.
What we know, more truly than we did a week ago, is that safety cannot be guaranteed.
"Young adults can be particularly vulnerable," said Ms. Moll. "We all need to be as aware as possible."