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If your child is heading off to college this fall, there are some things you should know. While you’re welcome to pay for tuition and send cookies, there are definite limits to the information you’re entitled to as a parent.

When my older child came home after his first term away at school, I asked about his grades. He told me point-blank, “I don’t have to tell you.” He was right: he didn’t have to tell me… and he didn’t tell me. He set me straight on my limits and, though I was surprised, I had to agree.

These limits are legal. The school cannot legally share your child’s grades with you. It cannot even share the status of her financial account unless she gives you authorization in writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying all the tuition. Your child is an adult once she enters into higher education and the school’s interactions are with her and her alone.

This means that you should not call up her professors to complain about a grade. You should not harangue the Dean about her roommate’s music preferences. You should not talk to her advisor about her program of study. None of these people may legally talk to you. All of them – if they are following the law – should politely tell you to talk with your child.

Your child, of course, is under no requirement to talk with you.

Heading off to college is the first major break from mom and dad that many teens experience. This is an important moment for all of you. For your teen, it’s a chance to finally seize that independence he’s been wanting and an opportunity to demonstrate that he can indeed manage his own affairs. Everyone knows that he still has a lot to learn and the college environment is organized around that. So it’s not like you’re putting your kid on a boat to the New World, with little chance of seeing him again (as was commonplace just a hundred years ago). He’ll be back for Thanksgiving, most likely, and probably he’ll ask for some spending money and maybe he’ll ask for some advice.

Or maybe not. Keep in mind that this is the moment you’ve been waiting for since the day he was born: the moment when you’re no longer responsible 24/7 and you can begin to turn his old bedroom into an art studio. You do want your child to grow up and have a lovely life of his own. In order for that to happen, you must let him try his wings. You must learn to step back and give him the freedom to be an adult. If he asks for advice, feel free to give it. If he doesn’t, don’t.

Know your place. You are your college kid’s chief cheerleader, a shoulder to cry on, and a wallet to tap. You are still her parent, of course, but you’re no longer her intermediary. You no longer stand between her and the world.

Tough as it seems sometimes to believe it, she is ready to face the world on her own.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.