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You sent your teen off to college in August and now he’s about to be back in time for the holidays. What can you expect? Well, don’t expect him to be the same.

For most college students, the first semester at college offers more than just English 101. Your child will have learned how to be more independent and self-reliant than he was when he lived at home. He will have been challenged to question his assumptions and think for himself. And he will have learned to rely on his peers for information and support.

This means that you’ll have to change your old ways of interacting with your child and accommodate his new, adult status. Here are some thoughts.

Avoid Controversial Topics. The kid who comes home may be aware of differences between his current thinking and the views he remembers from you. He may be protective of his new status as an independent thinker. This can translate into confrontation and argument. Or, because he doesn’t want to upset you, it may translate into refusal to talk about big issues. This is not the time to get into heated discussions of politics, religion, and social issues. Your child’s point-of-view might have shifted. Your own point-of-view is unlikely to be the basis for his own thoughts.

Keep Questions On Academics Light. Your child doesn’t have to tell you her grades. She doesn’t have to tell you if she made the Dean’s List or if she’s on the disciplinary list. She doesn’t even need to tell you if she’s picked a major yet. Even if you’re paying her way, your child is under no requirement to fill you in. So express interest, but don’t launch an investigation. Ask how things are going. Ask her to tell you about her favorite professor. Ask what she’s learned this term that was really interesting or surprising. You’ll get more information if you don’t appear to be checking up on her progress.

Stay Out Of His Personal Life. Really, you don’t want to know. There’s nothing you can do about it if your child is doing stuff you don’t like. There’s nothing you can do about it if your child is struggling to find a “best friend” or if he’s so popular he doesn’t have time to study. Keep your questions and comments light and free of judgment. Don’t give advice unless your child says, “Mom, I need some advice.” Even then, just help your child know his own mind instead of giving him a piece of yours.

Be Alert To Cries For Help. Here’s the tricky part: while you want to give your child her space, you don’t want to be so disconnected that she goes back to school thinking you don’t care. Going away to college is very stressful. Some kids adjust to the stress and some kids fall apart. If your child seems depressed, appears to have developed an eating disorder, or is wound so tightly she can’t relax, then have a heart-to-heart. Let her know that it’s okay if she needs to dial down the pressure and help her think of ways to do that.

Your college student has taken a huge step forward towards becoming an adult. Make coming home to see you a celebration of his accomplishment, so he can go back to school when the new term starts knowing you’ve got his back.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.